Last week Leeds Student controversially published an interview with the leader of the BNP, Nick Griffin. This week Big Debate asks, was LS right to publish the interview?
YES: Eleanor Grimwade
Let me first and foremost start by emphasising how ardently I oppose, reject, and am repulsed by everything Nick Griffin and the BNP stand for. However in spite, in fact because, of this; I still fully support LeedsStudent for interviewing any man with views he wants to share with society; no matter how much they bring bile into my mouth.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, states that: “Everyone [however bigoted] has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” We in the UK are well versed in our criticism of the blatant oppression in other “less developed”, “less liberal”, “suppressive states”. We shake our heads in dismay at the shooting of Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan after speaking out for women’s education; the imprisonment of Pussy Riot in Russia for anti-Putan demonstrations; and the numerous acts of oppression carried out across the world. What sort of hypocrisy would we be committing by denying a political individual to voice his opinion, however disagreeable, when we claim to be the pinnacle of modern democracy?
Nick Griffin is and elected MEP, so there are at least some individuals in society who support his policies and viewpoint. Even more relevant for the students in Leeds, three years ago in Leeds a BNP candidate was also elected to the European Parliament. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, the views of this racist party do have a support base, even within this city. Ignoring Nick Griffin won’t make him go away. He is not the bogey-man and we are not 6 years old. Surely the most productive, liberal, and responsible approach to Griffin, and the BNP, is not to deny him his human rights, but to provide legitimate, logical, and equally impassioned responses which shoot his arguments to the ground; and maybe demonstrate to a few of his supporters just how ignorant and misguided the BNP is?
Much as we might want to, we cannot just brush Griffin under the rug, these things have a habit of festering and without a legitimate platform to air these views, we run the risk of pushing them underground. Evil things grow in the dark where they can’t be watched, and it’s in those circumstances that extremism can take a hold. If the BNP’s views are supressed in the media, they are more likely to seek extreme methods to have their messages heard. Without squaring up to face what Nick Griffin has to say, how can we ever expect to overcome it? Besides, as last week’s interview has displayed, we seemingly all agree that Griffin is as ignorant, deluded, and just plain wrong. So surely as a group of logical, intellectual, and equalitarian individual, we’ll have no difficulties in coming up with the evidence and arguments which prove his views to be as erroneous as we know them to be? Rest assured LeedsStudent will be only TOO HAPPY to print them!
I conclude by stating this; don’t let Nick Griffin win by making YOU a closed minded individual who marginalises the views of minority groups.
NO: Christian Hogsbjerg
Perhaps Leeds Student were short of content for their scary ‘Halloween special’, but the decision to break Leeds University Union’s ‘No Platform’ for fascists policy, and give ‘Nazi Nick’ Griffin, the führer of the BNP, the opportunity to spout his hate-filled bile was both insulting to the paper’s multiracial and multicultural student readership and grossly irresponsible given the rising threat of fascism across Europe. It did not constitute any kind of ‘challenge’ for Griffin – who in characteristic fashion and in the best traditions of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels – lied systematically throughout (with the LS interviewer missing all but one of his many ‘untruths’). The interview will have given a much needed morale boost to the currently crisis-ridden fascist BNP, enabling Griffin, who was convicted in 1998 for incitement to racial hatred for Holocaust denial, to pose as a ‘respectable’, legitimate politician.
Leeds Student insist they ‘wholeheartedly defend Griffin’s right to be heard’, noting he is now an MEP. Yet winning an elected seat does not suddenly make Griffin a democratic politician. In the 1920s well-meaning liberal journalists in Weimar Germany carried plenty of interviews with Joseph Goebbels after he became an MP – and it didn’t stop the Nazis rising to power, destroying freedom and democracy and murdering whole communities. We have one advantage those in the 1920s did not have – we know now what fascism is, what it inevitably leads to, and we have to learn from history. As Adolf Hitler himself put it in 1933, once in power, ‘only one thing could have stopped our movement – if our adversaries had understood its principle, and from the first day had smashed with the utmost brutality the nucleus of our new movement’.
The only context LS gave about who the BNP actually are was to say that ‘the views of this party may be unsavoury to say the least’. Griffin’s views are rather more than unsavoury – they are grossly offensive. What a way for Leeds Student to mark Black History Month by allowing Griffin to defend the BNP’s links to the violent white supremacist Ku Klux Klan! Yet the point is not just that the BNP are notoriously homophobic and racist – sadly one can find homophobes and racists in mainstream political parties – but that the BNP’s leadership are made up of dedicated fascists. Contrary to what Leeds Student columnist John Briggs alleged when he claimed ‘neo-Nazis are far more threatening than Nick Griffin’ – Griffin’s long term strategic aim – an aim shared by other British fascists including the Yorkshire and Humber MEP Andrew Brons – is to build a violent paramilitary neo-Nazi organisation like Golden Dawn in Greece. Griffin dreams of the BNP taking control of the streets, attacking migrant workers, trade unionists, anti-racists, and black, Asian, Jewish, and LGBT communities with impunity, and becoming, ‘as he put it in 1993, “a strong, disciplined organisation with the ability to back up its slogan “Defend Rights for Whites” with well-directed boots and fists. When the crunch comes, power is the product of force and will, not of rational debate.”
This debate is not about the ‘right to free speech’, which does not exist abstractly in isolation but in concrete reality alongside ‘the right to be free from harassment and intimidation’. Ideas lead to actions. If you allow fascists the oxygen of publicity and the ability to organise openly, racist and homophobic violence inevitably follow in their wake. If Leeds Student really is ‘proud that we live in a democratic society’, it should realise the danger posed by fascist groups like the BNP and EDL, respect the collective democracy of LUU and support ‘No Platform’.