No Platform – A response

September 24th, 2009 § 1 comment

I have been kindly invited to respond to a previous blog that argued the No Platform policy advocated by UAF is not the correct approach. Whilst I understand why many believe the way to stop the BNP is to share every platform with them, and enter into debates with them whenever they appear in the media arena, there are a number of difficulties with this tactic. I will try and make this response as short as possible.

Firstly, there is the question of historical evidence. If you are arguing that the BNP should be allowed to exist as a democratic political party, participate in elections, engage in debates alongside all the other political parties, and have their racist propaganda treated as a ‘view’, and that this is the best way to stop them, then the gaping hole in your argument is Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany. Hitler’s rise was through the democratic machinery of the state, starting out in a small extremist party, and ending up as a Fascist dictator. I need not spell out the details of the holocaust again, but the sheer scale of these horrific acts should serve as a warning to us all. The only thing that did work in the end was direct physical confrontation in the shape of one of the (if not the) bloodiest wars in human history. Democracy was no safeguard to these crimes, it enabled them. The BNP should not be given a platform. History shows us what can happen when Fascist parties are. By sharing a platform, you begin to create the legitimising conditions that can lead to the most extreme consequences imaginable.

But things are different now I hear you say. That would never happen here! Well, I imagine that the majority of the German population would never have thought that it could have happened there! If things are so different, why are we still having to deal with the threat of fascism and racism nearly 70 years on?

On the basis of evidence alone, the policy of sharing a platform and allowing Fascists to participate in democratic life must be discarded. If this was a scientific theory one was testing, it would be immediately negated, but there is a general reluctance to suggest that we should marginalise them and use direct action to prevent them being heard. This is Fascist itself isn’t it? People have a right to their own views?

The real issue at hand, and the one that places constraints on the choice of tactics that we should use, is the issue of free speech (I have argued previously on this blog site about this  –  please address it if you disagree). Allowing racist and Fascist parties to spout their propaganda, and defending it on the basis of freedom of speech is a complete misapplication of the notion of ‘freedom’ to ‘speech’.  If we were in favour of freedom of choice, or freedom of action, we would not expect these ‘freedoms’ to include choosing to murder someone, or the freedom to rape someone. We understand freedom as bounded by some form of basic moral framework, and expressed within a social context.

Why then do we think that when applied to speech ‘freedom’ means saying whatever we want? We would not apply it in the same way to other ‘freedoms’.  ‘Speech’ and ‘action’  are not isolated spheres. Saying whatever you want is not harmless, it does have consequences. Inciting and promoting racial hatred leads to physical acts of racial violence. Ask any victim of a racial crime, or the many people in this country that have to put up with racist abuse. Freedom of speech does not mean that you should have this right.

It is this misapplication that paralyses the current Government in allowing the party to exist, and also the many millions of opponents of the BNP who mistakenly believe that outlawing the party would somehow be anti-democratic. What actually happens is that a Fascist party, once in power, get’s rid of democracy and most freedoms.

Secondly, and following on from the point above, I also want to address the way that debate manifests itself, and to show the limited potential of engaging in debate with them. I watched the previously posted clip of the Nicky Campbell show. After 10 whole minutes of debate, I did not see the BNP being shown up hugely. There was the odd moment where Brons was not comfortable, and avoided the question, but this is behaviour we see from all politicians. The  Reverend also brought in the notion of free speech I have previously addressed, and quickly the topic became derailed and muddled. By even having him on the show, Bron’s racist hatred has been presented as a ‘view’, and has not been treated with the contempt it deserves.

And if you are in any doubt about how giving Fascists a platform will not help show them up, then watch this clip of Andrew Marr interviewing Nick Griffin:

How brilliant was Marr at showing Griffin up?

Griffin may be many things, but he is not stupid. He knows what he can and can’t say, has been carefully rebranding the BNP, and will anticipate many of the questions that come his way. If he were to appear on question time, any audience questions would be made available upfront, giving him time to prepare. Sitting him alongside the leading members of  the three main parties would confer status on him, without any guarantee that they would be able to show him up – we don’t trust them to do anything else right, so why this?

The only solution is to refuse to share a platform with them, and confronting them with direct action, whether that is trying to stop their festival of race hate, or standing up to the EDL in the streets of Birmingham or the Mosques of Luton.

To recap why:

  • Racism and Fascism is not a ‘view’ to be debated.
  • Sharing a platform legitimises these ‘views’.
  • There is a very limited potential for ‘showing up’ the BNP for what they are. Both mainstream TV programmes referred to above certainly do not show the BNP in a particularly bad light.
  • Allowing Fascist parties to participate in a democratic system was a contributing factor in creating the conditions in which Hitler rose to power.

We cannot risk making the same mistakes again.

There is much more that could be said on this matter, but there is hard evidence, from history and the present day, that shows the limitations of an approach to defeating the Fascists based on engaing them as a political opponent.

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