I'm just taking some time out from rushing to finish my MA dissertation and reading Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth, to discuss some current affairs. The big news at the moment, other than the postal strike, seems to be the fact that Question Time are proposing to give racist bigot Nick Griffin some airtime.
Now, I happen to think that the BNP have almost certainly used up their allotted oxygen quotient, and I would be quite happy if they all took a collective long walk off a short pier, BUT, I don't think this excuses the rest of us sane individuals in this country to resort to censorship.
There's the obvious quote from Voltaire, that whilst one may disagree absolutely with everything someone says, one should defend to the death their right to say it, or whilst I could refer readers to a wonderful blog post by Neil Gaiman about freedom of speech sometimes meaning that one has to defend the indefensible, I'd rather not just be glib and let someone else write my argument for me.
The BBC has long held a reputation for impartiality. Up until the Hutton Report and that whole whitewashed mess, it was taken for granted that the BBC was free from ties of government and political bias. Now, that reputation has been tarnished, but not to my mind destroyed. Censorship on a program such as Question Time would be, for me, another blow to that reputation, another example of a media institution not willing to put itself in the line of fire, for fear of not being politically correct. And I mean that just as much in the sense of not ascribing to some notion of "correct" politics. It's the job of a free press to report everything, not just the bits of politics that we find acceptable. Otherwise, we're no better than a banana republic, trying to keep its citizens happy and complient, by only telling them the authorised truth. We're above that in this country, and despite total f*ckwits like Griffin, we ought to remain so.
And I don't like the idea of people saying "we don't have to give the BNP the same rights as we'd give anyone else, because they're not a "real" political party". That's one step away from saying "I don't have to listen to you because you're a member of this group, and therefore not a real person." Slippery slope, perhaps, that's how these things start. Plus, of course, we'd be behaving just like the people we ostensibly hate. How much of a validation would that be for the BNP if we adopted their own tactics of bullying and prejudice in order to combat them?
If we didn't invite idiots like this into our media, if we demonise them and refuse to listen, that gives them further "proof" of the liberal media pandering to the governement, excluding them, etc. It gives them the opportunity to act the martyr, and makes this a debate about freedom of speech, not about what it should be about - the unacceptability of casual racism in British politics. We're being distracted by the ephemera into arguing about tangenital subjects, where the BNP are on much stronger ground. We are giving the BNP more publicity and recognition as a result of the controversy than as a result of having them on the BBC in the first place, (where at the very least his views are engaged with, and not allowed to go unchallenged while we dance around talking about the freedom of the press). As Griffin said himself: "I thank the political class and their allies for being so stupid. The huge furore that the political class has created around it clearly gives us a whole new level of public recognition."
On the other hand, if we stop this debate being about issues such as freedom of speech, this could actually be a fantastic opportunity for all opponents of the BNP. Their policies are shit. Not just the casual racism (though that's horrific enough), but the fact that they haven't really got a political standpoint on anything other than immigration. Challenge him on this and other issues, and people will see that they really, really don't want him or his grubby little party anywhere near running the country. The people who are going to be enthused by this are the people who would have voted for the BNP anyway. The moderates, on the other hand, might very well be alienated once they've actually had a chance to hear what the party's got to say for itself. So yes, drag Griffin in front of the cameras, have David Dimbleby and the pannelists grill him within an inch of his life, and I promise you he will be exposed for the racist, bigoted, half-witted, spineless little demagog he really is. His policies cannot stand up to reasoned debate, and his appearance in any legitimate forum will, far from conferring its legitimacy on him, show up, by contrast, just how little he deserves to be taken seriously. As the saying goes, give him enough rope and he'll hang himself.
Not engaging with an issue may save us the risk of accidentally legitimising it, but it allows Griffin's views to go unchallenged. We shouldn't be ignoring the problem and hoping it goes away, we should be fighting back, providing the counter arguments that often people don't hear, because they're hearing the BNP's views in isolation. Distasteful as it might be, sometimes we need to parade shit around, so people can see for themselves how badly it smells.
And of course, if you still don't agree with me, then you can always take comfort in one of my favourite quotes from Ferdinand Mount:
"One of the unsung freedoms that go with a free press is the freedom not to read it...."