Friday, 30 November 2007

BNP: "Islamic civilization is an oxymoron"

On its website, the BNP has published articles blaming multiculturalism for the riots in France and an article from an Indian writer who claims there is an global Islamic conspiracy trying to destroy western civilization. Since he became leader of the BNP, Nick Griffin has been trying to break down the neo-Nazi image of his party. Appearing to support a global conspiracy by a single religious group reveals that the BNP is a paranoid and racist party underneath the fa├žade. In the 17th century it was the Catholics and the Puritans. In the 1930s it was the Jews. Now it is the Muslims who are the new scapegoats. If the BNP were ever to form a government, they would drag this country into a perpetual 'crusade' against every single country with a Muslim majority.

In such a situation, it is vital for the left to support secularism against the religious bigotry of the far right. Socialists must be consistent in calling for a secular state where everyone is free to express their own views without the state supporting particular forms of behaviour. I think that the anti-clericalism of some Socialists would be misguided and that the state must give people the freedom to wrestle with theological questions for themselves. At present, the Left is hardly consistent on this issue. The Labour Government still pursues a policy of schools maintaining a 'distinctive mission and ethos', and former Prime Minister Tony Blair gave his backing to faith schools wanting to enter the state sector.

Things are not looking good on the far left either: the Stop the War Coalition held a recent conference to which it invited an apologist for the regime in Iran (see Weekly Worker). They say that the regime in Iran is not as bad as it is depicted in the western media. Even allowing for media misrepresentation, a critical eye cannot fail to appreciate the totalitarian nature of Iran's theocratic government.

The BNP has labelled the Left as apologists for Islamic terrorism - an accusation which is embarrassingly justified with regard to STWC. Perhaps STWC follows a philosophy of 'my enemy's enemy is my friend': the Iranians are 'oppressed' by 'Western Imperialism' so we should give their government our full backing. In the first instance, Socialists ought not to support those governments who explicitly oppose progressive values (e.g. gay rights, abortion rights). Secondly, it is important for us to separate a state from its people, especially in a dictatorship. The people of Iran had a reason to vote for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and most of them probably don't want to see Israel 'wiped from the map'.

I guess that most BNP voters will never read the article which appeared on that party's website. We must accept that the far right must be defeated at the ballot box and this will not be achieved by saying 'Don't Vote BNP' if voters feel so disaffected that there is no alternative. The will judge the BNP by the carefully-worded material which comes through their letterbox: the 'official' image of the BNP. They will also judge the parties of the left by the way they behave on the subject of racial and religious integration.

The left will win over BNP voters if it promotes itself as the party of racial integration, not racial segregation.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Griffin wins this time around

The BNP claimed on their website today that the left's policy of 'No Platform' had been undermined following Nick Griffin's speech to members of the Oxford Union last night. The news article contains an audio clip of the speech which is probably not available anywhere else on the web.

Unite Against Fascism were also claiming victory today:

"The most powerful opposition to fascism came not from within the chamber but from the peaceful demonstration calling for Oxford Union not to become a tool for giving fascists prestigious cover, which were picked up widely in the media."

Firstly, the demonstration was not completely peaceful. A small group of anti-fascists managed to break the security cordons and enter the Union building where they staged a fifteen-minute sit-in. The debate had to be divided in two with Griffin and Irving addressing students in separate rooms. Such a mobilisation may well have been justified for a rally of marching fascists, but not for a middle-aged historian (David Irving) or the suited and booted leader of the BNP.

The UAF quotation assumes that the BNP do not already have 'prestigious cover', yet they ignore the growing support for the far right in many areas of the country where the 'no platform' policy has not trickled down. Their 'victory' will not have the same resonance in those local authorities where electors have voted for BNP candidates in local elections. In spite of last night, the BNP still has over 40 councillors in England and it is still the main opposition on one of the London boroughs. In short, UAF are deluded if they think this demonstration was anything more than a piece of political theatre.

Andrew Smith, the MP for Oxford East, sent a message of support to the protesters: "The true threat to freedom of speech comes from men such as Mr Griffin who argue for the use of ' boots and fists' as political tools." It clearly does not matter to Smith that he was an integral part of the New Labour project which has alienated the party from millions of working class people. If Mr. Smith really wants to challenge the far right, he might like to talk to the people in his own backyard who deserted him at the general election in 2005 slashing his majority from 10,344 to 963.

After Oxford, it's time for anti-fascists to rethink their strategy and to admit that 'no platform' has failed to stop the BNP from gaining nearly 50 councillors. Unfortunately this advice is probably going to fall on deaf ears amongst the UAF and the Labour Party.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Irving, Griffin and the Oxford Union

A debate on Freedom of Speech is due to take place tonight at the Oxford Union. The debating society has invited BNP chairman Nick Griffin and revisionist historian David Irving to take part in the debate. The decision has sparked uproar with one Conservative MP resigning his membership of the Oxford Union and several Labour ministers refusing to attend further Union debates unless the invitation is revoked. There will be the usual ANL/UAF protest as well as demonstrations from an array of other university groups.

It is right for anti-fascists to protest against this, but I do not think liberal politicians are in a position to counter the arguments of the BNP and those who deny the Holocaust. Three local authorities in England have more than six BNP councillors (Barking and Dagenham, Stoke, Epping Forest). We are in a situation where the BNP appears as a respectable party to ordinary voters, particularly in areas where the Labour Party were strong. It can be argued that liberal politicians have created the ideal conditions for far right parties to thrive, namely the long-term neglect of working class people and the failure to provide an alternative to the neo-liberal economic consensus which has created social dislocation and job insecurity.

Resigning from the Oxford Union or refusing to debate with fascists will not stop them from gaining votes. If the left wants to defeat the BNP before it grows any further, it must look at itself and the way it responds to current economic and social conditions.

If MPs continue with gesture politics and political point-scoring, this will simply give more weight to Nick Griffin's claims that he is a victim of repression.