Owen Holland makes the ‘No platform’ case against the BNP and explains why he and others opposed the BBC’s decision to host Nick Griffin on Question Time.
It looks as if the BBC’s decision to allow the leader of the fascist BNP onto their flagship political program Question Time has backfired. The idea much touted in the weeks leading up to the show – and occasionally in the anti-fascist movement as well – is that if you give them enough rope, they’ll hang themselves. If one were to judge by the triumphalism of the news headlines which appeared the following morning – ‘Griffin is slain’ etc. – one might be forgiven for thinking that this strategy had actually worked. Meanwhile, back on the ranch, a YouGov poll found that 1 in 5 viewers had said they would be more likely to vote BNP after the would-be-Fuhrer’s appearance and the fascists reported a 3000-strong surge in membership. Some people in the Question Time audience even applauded Griffin’s tirade against Islam and immigration.
The nervously hubristic swagger of the other panellists and the equally complicit audience members was sickening to watch. They would have done well to remind themselves of Max Horkheimer’s oft-quoted remark that those who ‘do not wish to speak of capitalism, should remain silent about fascism’. Each of the elected representatives on the panel fell over themselves to appear ‘tougher’ on immigration than the others, whilst simultaneously ridiculing Griffin for being a loathsome racist. To risk a parody of Slavoj Žižek: what they failed to recognise was that their one-eyed interlocutor was no more than the obscene supplement to their own position; the main parties spout the rhetoric of racial tolerance and harmony whilst at the same time advocating tighter border controls, increasing state surveillance etc.
It is, quite simply, a fundamental mistake – liberal myopia, if you will – to assume that fascism can be allowed into the rational, agonistic sphere of public debate. The stock, liberal response to this usually concerns ‘Freedom of Speech’. ‘But this is a democracy!’ they exclaim, going red in the face. ‘So was Weimar Germany, you amnesiac fool’, we retort. So, a question: would any right-thinking liberal be willing to countenance someone rushing into a crowded theatre (interrupting the Chekhov!) and shouting ‘fire’ ? No. It would be dangerous. ‘Lock up the lunatic!’ This, in short, is why I and hundreds of others were outside the BBC building attempting to throw spanners into the works of the whole ill-conceived fandango. No broadcast = no publicity, no new members, no new BNP voters. It was the police – willing lapdogs of the state – who stopped us from doing so.
As Griffin himself has said: ‘When the crunch comes, power is the product of force and will, not of rational debate’. So why does he attempt to engage in it? Simple answer: publicity, membership, voters. In this sense, they are the jealous understudies of the materialist worldview. The ‘Crunch’ has indeed come and it is the fascists who, as their traditions teach them, seek to exploit people’s fear for their homes and jobs in order to provoke division and racial hatred; as Walter Benjamin so aptly commented: if this enemy should come to power, not even the dead will be safe.
As for those myopic apparatchiks in the BBC, slavering over the enormous ratings, and the narcissistic babblers in the political establishment who would give a fascist a rope in the hope that he will hang himself, these people should not be surprised or have the temerity to complain when they find the space around their own necks becoming constricted.