Whilst I applauded when the government was defeated in parliament over the law on inciting religious hatred, the failure to convict the BNP’s Nick Griffin and Mark Collett for the existing crime of inciting racial hatred shows how difficult these things are to enforce in the first instance, and that concerns over the bills’ implications for freedom of speech, while genuine, may not be as strong as suspected. If you can’t convict BNP leaders for being racists then these laws seem as pointless as they are wrongheaded.
But perhaps the worst thing about these laws, as I argued over a year ago, is that they are counterproductive; that they give the BNP and their ilk the opportunity to cloak themselves in respectability. This court case has allowed the BNP to stand proud as bold advocates of free speech, as the agents of liberty, as the persecuted purveyors of truth.
It is not just that I think free speech should extend to the BNP for its own sake, though, just because I believe in free speech as a principle; I personally think that Nick Griffin and his associates should be in the media far more often than they currently are. Rather than trying (and failing) to use the law as a sledgehammer to protect the public from the BNP, we should be putting Griffin on TV and radio daily to show him for what he is; the man is a fool. For example, when interviewed on FiveLive by Peter Allen the other day, Griffin said that race relations in this country were leading to a future Bosnia, indeed that just prior to the war in Bosnia that country “was probably in some ways less unstable than parts of Europe and parts of Britain are now”. When Allen said “so you’re seriously saying, and you are the leader of the party, that the BNP believes that this country is in danger of civil war” Griffin sort of paused and had to check himself, aware how melodramatic such a statement would sound to the majority of the public. He then admitted that there was no immediate danger and that we probably had a good 30 years to prepare for becoming an Islamic republic.
The problem is that such debates with the BNP are rare; too often their statements and complaints go unchallenged and unanswered by the media and mainstream politicians, their pronouncements exist in an echo chamber. When the media do cover the BNP, rather than tackle the details of what they actually say the media are often more interested in challenging the morality of what the BNP stands for; as such they make it easy for the BNP to present itself as a defender of freedoms cowed by a liberal establishment.
With news programmes last night showing the BNP as the epitome of free speech, juxtaposed with pictures of Muslims around the world protesting about the re-publication of a crap cartoon (which has allowed some to dust off their Islamophobia; as if believers in other religions never overreact) some people are likely to become quite confused; and the confused, I imagine, form a large part of the BNP’s constituency. If we allow the BNP to have their say then we strip them of their image as free speech martyrs and simultaneously allow their statements to be fully scrutinised and challenged which rarely happen now; in effect we give them enough rope. Allow them the oxygen of publicity and with luck they will be left flapping about helplessly like fish on the shore.