Late to the party (hey, I've had my parents here again), here's my tuppen'orth on freedom of speech. Charlie Brooker did the best takedown of 'that' Jan Moir article – so I feel no need to rehash the issue – and of course Moir has since accused the internet of mounting an "orchestrated campaign" against her (in an article during which she also apologises to Gately's family for the 'timing' of the article, as if that was the worst thing about it). Leaving aside the Mail's own orchestrated campaigns, Moir is only serving to demonstrate her ignorance of how the internet works, and denying the strength of feeling against what she wrote. It's as though she wants to protect her right to say what she wants while denying the right of others to reply. Freedom of speech only functions, Ms Moir, if that freedom works both ways.
And for what it's worth, I think she had the right to say what she did. I don't think what she said was right, and she throughly deserved the outcry that followed. (But not the publication of her home address. Way to lose the moral high ground, whichever Tweeter did that.) But to respond "you can't say things like that" is a dangerous reaction. We all know there are plenty of people around who think like this, who think things that are abhorrent to us lovely liberal folk. However, standing on a hill and shouting at them will simply reinforce their tiny, paranoid beliefs that they are a persecuted bunch, and therefore must stand up harder and firmer. Hello, polarisation.
Which is also why I think, after much thought and gritted teeth, that it was right to have Nick Griffin on Question Time. It wasn't right for the BBC to trail the fucking programme on the news for days leading up to it, and it also wasn't right for the papers to go through a period of wailing and hand-wringing about how he shouldn't be allowed on because it was just bringing publicity to the BNP – and then splash it on the front pages. Hello, hypocrisy.
I didn't see Question Time. I was out. From what I gather from clips and reports, it turned into the BNP show, focusing solely on BNP policies, immigration and a picking apart of Griffin's personal beliefs and prior statements. This had a place on the show, there would have been no point in having him if he wasn't held to account. But for god's sake, let's not make the entire show about the BNP, yeah? First off, it panders to their egos and second, it makes them more able to say 'oh, we're the persecuted minority. We're the only ones who stand up and say what you, the British public, are thinking and look what they do to us in return'.
Let's not forget I cannot fucking stand the BNP. I want them pulverised into microscopic fragments. But the way to do that is to let Griffin and his cohorts trip over their own slack jaws and be armed with facts and stats to expose their mealy-mouthed lies in a dispassionate, logical way. Not to have an entire panel and audience staring him down. Anyone sympathetic to the BNP will have watched that and only been reinforced that they are the plucky underdogs, standing firm under establishment duress. Which is a key plank of their recruitment strategy (and boy, does it seem to have worked).
And if you don't believe me? My Dad went to Leeds the day after QT and found his brother oh-so-keen to talk about Griffin's 'great' performance. My Dad stopped him from even starting, thankfully. My Uncle is a man who gets his news from the rabble-rousing papers and is so dense, that even as he dismisses the main political parties for being 'all the same' and 'useless' and 'liars', he accepts whatever the BNP feed out with unquestioning greed. Because they pander to his underlying prejudices, he doesn't want to investigate underneath. He's bought the myth of BNP civilisation. What he saw was Griffin having it stuck to him unfairly by the liberal elite and 'understandably' floundering in the face of such 'overwhelming pressure', rather than a man incapable of coming up with justifications for his real beliefs when he's trying to peddle his smoothed-over lies. Question Time needed to have less anger focused upon Griffin and more clinical destruction. Finish him off with cold steel in a way that even my Uncle can't misinterpret.
This said, I'm less concerned about the rise of the far right than I was 18 months ago. Even with the failure of Question Tme to do anything other than reinforce each side in its view of the BNP, I believe they will destroy themselves. They can't stop bickering internally, are exposed by their own lies, aren't managing to do any effective work where they are elected (I believe they still haven't found a group to work with in the EU?), are more interested in local shitstirring than addressing local problems, publicly embarrassing themselves with massive strops and seem to lose as many members as they gain (perhaps because, once inside, vacuous people with vague notions about 'immigration' finally realise what a vile piece of work the party really is). Of course, we can help them along with some nicely aimed mortars of truth and deconstruction, done in a way that can't be accused of being tinged with anger.
I am clearly not the person to do this. But presumably there are people out there who can.
Gosh, look at that. I appear to have got sidetracked down another BNP rant alley. *ahem* But the thrust of my argument remains: freedom of speech is actually our best weapon against racism, homophobia, sexism and other hideous lines of thought. Forcing them underground only makes them fester. Allow them to be brought to the surface, and then engage in a calm, detached manner – and destroy. Of course there will be some people whose prejudices are too deeply ingrained to be convinced with logic and reason, but a lot of support for stuff like the BNP comes from myth and outright lies. Ignorance can no longer be an excuse. Let them talk.