Free speech is what protects us from the poison of fascism
If we deny the likes of the BNP the right to speak, we spit on the sacrifices of millions, writes Emer O'Kelly
A man called Nick Griffin believes immigration has gone too far. So he's at one with an awful lot of long-term unemployed young males who are happy to tell radio and TV interviewers that "them immigrant scum have taken the jobs off the likes of us". It seems to be irrelevant that the "likes of them" have never tried to get a job, and have no intention of ever getting one unless they're forced to.
When I hear talk like that from healthy, fit, often dangerous-looking young men, I'm glad we don't as yet have a political party which openly preaches right-wing hatred. Although we do have Sinn Fein, which pretends to a left-wing ideology, but deliberately foments discontent and social subversion and exclusion wherever it can.
Nick Griffin is the chairman of the British National Party; he graduated to it after having been a member of the National Front in his teens. He believes Britain should be for Britons like himself, white, Anglo-Saxon. The BNP is a fascist party, and its followers revel in the description.
The name, if you have any political intuition, carries a warning: the word "national" is by definition xenophobic, intolerant and inward-looking. Nationalism is a 19th Century reactionary political philosophy, which by now should be universally discredited because of its history of creating division wherever it has been allowed to influence political thinking. As the great French 19th Century liberal newspaper publisher Clemenceau said: "A patriot loves his country; a nationalist hates all others."
Nationalists, in whatever country they are based, are always on the right, frequently very far to the right. Nationalists in leadership positions, from Hitler to Robert Mugabe, have damaged their countries' welfare and reputations. Nationalists are always in favour of discipline and order; they are suspicious of broad liberal education because it helps people to think freely, and they equate ignorance with innocence. Above all, they want to restrict free speech in favour of various forms of censorship. And the thing that marks a free, honourable, and proud society more than anything else is the right to free speech.
The members/supporters of the National Front (where Nick Griffin learnt his political philosophy) dress like stormtroopers. They're determinedly anti-intellectual, and are always present if there's likely to be crowd trouble anywhere in Britain. They see it as their job to ensure that the trouble will be as violent as possible. Their targets are usually black or Asian, although they're quite happy to assault the odd policeman as well. Because they believe in order and discipline only on their own terms, favouring anarchy when it's a question of destroying other people's order and discipline.
To a man and a woman, they're nasty and frightening people. Their predecessors in Nazi Germany were violently opposed to free speech, as has been the case in every dangerous, corrupt, and repressive society down through the generations. The first thing any fascist/Nazi group does on gaining power is to deny the right of freedom of expression to anyone who does not agree with them. (And of course, paradoxically, you have left-wing Nazis as well, as in the former Eastern bloc countries and the Soviet Union.)
Nick Griffin's BNP thugs are behaving right now on the streets of Britain the way Hitler's stormtroopers behaved in Germany in the Thirties. The British people fought a bitter war against Nazism, exposed the filthy ideology for what it was, and defeated it at terrible, courageous cost. British people of 2011 have ingrained in them the cost of opposing fascism: they have little time for Nick Griffin and his cohorts, even in the face of crazed demagogues who even deny the reality of the Holocaust. Every man, woman and
child in Britain is the grandchild or great grandchild of a soldier who listened to Winston Churchill telling them he had nothing to offer them except blood and tears. And in 1945, the old man's "victory" sign became a reality, the reward of the blood and tears.
And when the war was won, nobody was in any doubt that one of the great achievements of victory was the right to free speech for all. It was what was being fought for.
And last week, an Englishman called John Palmer, a man old enough to have been born during the terrible years of the Second World War, did something breathtakingly out of tune with all that magnificent history. The Philosophical Society in TCD, the student debating society that has many generations of honourable as well as raucous debate behind it, invited Mr Palmer, a former European editor of The Guardian and currently adviser to the think tank European Policy Centre, to debate the motion that 'This House Believes Immigration Has Gone Too Far'. The scheduled date was October 20. Palmer accepted. So did Nick Griffin, the far-right chairman of the British National Party, and MEP in that party's interest. And when he learned who his opponent was to be, John Palmer withdrew. . . unless Griffin's invitation was withdrawn. Unless, in other words, Griffin's right to free speech was withdrawn.
"The roots of the BNP remain strongly Nazi," Palmer said, although he had "no problems in taking part in debates with people who have racist or reactionary views on immigration".
It sounds, in other words, as though he doesn't mind giving free speech to fascists, provided their level of fascism is what he (although horrified by and disapproving of it) regards as acceptable.
Personally, I don't find any level of fascism acceptable, so I don't differentiate in what I think of its exponents. They all make my blood boil. But being a liberal, I believe that even fascists have the right of free speech. It's what my parents' generation (except sadly, Ireland didn't join in) fought for in the Second World War, and for which millions died.
I despise Nick Griffin and what he stands for. I will dissect every hate-filled word he and his ilk utter, and I will turn away from their horrible vision. And how will I know what they think, as I know what Hitler thought? I will know because I am allowed to hear the nightmares they want to visit on us. If we deny them the oxygen of free speech, we will drive their poison underground where it can fester and destroy the entire foundations of our society. And we will spit on the sacrifices made in the war which delivered us from the horror of fascism.
John Palmer was wrong to withdraw from the Trinity debate. Free speech is our warning, our power, our right, and our protection. We must never again allow it to be restricted.