We live in interesting times. For the first time ever, the BBC invited the BNP’s leader, Nick Griffin, to take part in an edition of its flagship discussion programme, Question Time. Their justification: the BNP represented the UK in the European Parliament and should, therefore, be treated as a normal political party and invited to engage in public debate.

The reaction was predictable and rather worrying. Politicians, the media and various other beacons of public opinion put enormous pressure on the BBC to withdraw the invitation; protesters protested, marchers marched, and placards were made and held aloft. Apparently, the BNP’s views are so reprehensible that they should not be given an airing in a democratic society.

That’s right: a democratic society should not allow certain views to be heard, in the name of democracy.

The programme, too, was predictable. Instead of the usual menu of current affairs and party-politicking, the entire show was dedicated to grilling, roasting and generally attacking Mr. Griffin. Only one question on a non-BNP -related topic was heard. Under the heat, poor Mr. Griffin came off rather badly, unable to give a convincing account of himself or his party.

Meanwhile, outside the studio the protesters protested and placards were held aloft.

The following morning, the newspapers and electronic media had a field day.

So what?

Most sensible people have little sympathy with the BNP’s worldview or political aims. However, things have come to a pretty pass when democracy demands the silencing of those whose views are reprehensible to the majority. On the morning-after, the Daily Express labelled Mr. Griffin, apparently without any irony, “A Disgrace to Humanity”.

We can only claim to believe in freedom of speech when that freedom allows those to speak whose views are most odious to us. Racism is bad. Immigrant-bashing, Holocaust denial and all that stuff is also bad. But pelting people who hold unpleasant views with eggs in order to silence them, as was done recently outside Westminster, is also bad. If the barometer of public opinion gets to decide whose views are allowed and whose are banned, we no longer operate in a democracy. Morally, there is no difference between silencing Nick Griffin on the BBC and silencing Dietrich Bonhoeffer on German radio in January 1933.

As the old cliché goes,

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Regardless of who coined the phrase, you can’t quibble with the sentiment. You’d better not—just in case it’s your views that fall foul of public approval. If you are a Christian, that’s more than likely.

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2 thoughts on “Freedom of Speech and the BNP

  1. Racism begins with our families, parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandparents, people we admire, respect and love.

    However, as we grow and mature we come to the realization that what we were told by our family when we were children were slanted lies base on their prejudices. We realize that most people are like ourselves and not so different and want the same things, like a home, steady work, a Medicare plan and schools for our children (if you travel you will see this). We realize that most people are of good hearts and goodwill.

    This reminds me of a parable from the good book where a Levite and Priest come upon a man who fell among thieves and they both individually passed by and didn’t stop to help him.

    Finally a man of another race came by, he got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy and got down with the injured man, administered first aid, and helped the man in need.

    Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, this was the great man, because he had the capacity to project the “I” into the “thou,” and to be concerned about his fellow man.

    You see, the Levite and the Priest were afraid, they asked themselves, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?”

    But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

    That’s the question before us. The question is not, “If I stop to help the immigrant in need, what will happen to me?” The question is, “If I do not stop to help the immigrant, what will happen to him or her?” That’s the question.

    This current climate of blaming others for our woes is not new. We have had this before and we have conquered it.

    Remember “Evil flourishes when good men (and women) do nothing”. Raise your voices with those of us who believe we are equal and we can win this battle again.

  2. This isn’t a post about racism but about free speech. Yes, we all should abhor and reject racism. But we should likewise embrace the freedom of speech. There are countries today such as Sweden – generally considered civilised and democratic – where people are being imprisoned for things such as calling a homosexual lifestyle a sin. I don’t want racism. Nor do I want people who are racists to be denied their freedoms, because my particular forms of speech might well be next on the list. To quote another Nazi-era cliche: “First they came for x and I did nothing…”

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