Working out in a foreign country, doing pretty intensive work doesn't allow me much time for accessing all those things British. There are many things which I currently miss out on, so having access to the BBC is a very understandable and important part of spending time back with my own culture. It's therefore not surprising to add that I regularly check the BBC News site where I can, and we get copies of many papers delivered by people visiting us from the UK.
This past week, things got slightly more interesting as I installed a little program on my machine called zsh - with this program, I can type bbc.radio2 and bbc.radio4 and it will connect and start streaming the radio for me. Those of you using Windows and Mac (and even Ubuntu) might not see this as massively amazing - but when I'm spending 90% of my time using the commandline configuring servers, then having commandline tools for listening to radio becomes much more aesthetically pleasing.
So, I started using that this week, and there's been an awful lot of coverage of this Nick Griffin Question Time saga. Facebook was alive with people making anti-BNP jokes, saying things like "Nick Griffin stands for racial purity, but his name represents a hybrid of a lion and a phoenix" .etc .etc. People were engaging in politics, and I didn't see one voice in support of the BNP. However, I did see a few voices in support of Freedom of Speech - and it's essential that the distinction is made between the two. Unfortunately, that's the reason why politicians are attacking the BBC - it appears as though many politicians can't distinguish.
One of the programmes I did manage to tune into was on McCarthyism in the USA. I didn't manage to catch enough of the programme to quote from it - but in the snippets I heard I ended up with a pretty good example of where we're at today in the UK. Unless there is clear freedom of speech, we're in danger of following the same path and ending up with our own little version of McCarthyism.
The argument by the BBC is that Nick Griffin is a freely elected MEP, he's representative of a big enough section of our society to have been elected, and therefore the people he stands for have the right to have him speak on their behalf on what is meant to be a political panel show which debates the views of the entire country.
Reading Peter Hain's comments on the BBC this evening only go further to support my argument, and to lay the blame for the success of the BNP firmly on the shoulders of the politicians - who by being so scared of the BNP's sudden appearance on the scene, have decided to try and heavy handedly deny them their right to free speech, rather than freely attacking the cause of their popularity.
If Mr Hain were to appear on Question Time, espousing Labour's policies and attacking those of the Conservative government, then a rise of 1% in the poll the next day for Labour would be seen as disasterous. Had Nick Griffin come on Question Time and put forward a cohesive argument in support of his views and had widespread agreement, there would have been a rise of decidedly more than 1%.
I believe the rise in support for Nick Griffin (by the fringes) is probably just an indication of the way in which his appearance was handled. Those people whose vote relies on the government providing for the country (and America has also voted more selfishly since the recession) rather than looking at the bigger picture are placing their support behind the BNP. Thank goodness for now that it's just a small number, and hopefully through good policy-making and communication the less extreme parties can win back the trust of those fringe voters.
The solution therefore is not to stifle the BNP, treat them like animals and put them in cages - that will just give reason to their supporters to affirm their belief that 'Us Brits' are not being heard. What needs to happen is for their position to be accepted, and for all parties to work hard at designing policies which will appease the section of the nation that seem to think the BNP is the only answer.
I'd urge anyone who is feeling anti-BNP at the moment to take time to understand this argument. I may not agree with the opinion of every man whose path I come across, however, I intend to defend his right to say it, and my right to hear it.
Working in India, there are some communities we've come across who will prevent their sons and daughters from seeing or hearing anything 'bad' during their formative years. They'll read the papers, then burn them to prevent the children's prying eyes. They don't have access to TV, not access to Internet, and are encouraged to read from a set list of books prescribed for them by their parents. When they then come out into the real world, how do you think they handle it?
Most can't cope with it and run back to the safe world their parents created, by working in their close community, marrying into it, and distancing themselves as much as possible from the outside world. Others simply enjoy the freedom, and embrace everything that's made available to them, ignoring morals, safety and self-respect. Some then realise their mistakes and go back to their communities, tail low - whilst others burn themselves out, or get into a lifetime of destitution.
The way forward is the middle ground - not Gorbachev's "third way" - but a balance of the two. I'm learning my moral compass the hard way. I've done things which I'm massively ashamed of, but also things that I'm massively proud of. There's not a day goes past when I don't feel ill of myself for a mistake, nor pride for an achievement. Were I not able to make the mistakes I did, I may have not made the mistake at all, or I may have ended up making an even bigger mistake. However, what I now know to be the truth is that experience and knowledge are the best two weapons against extremism. If you allow freedom for people to vote for the 'wrong' person, and expect them to vote the 'right' way each time - then you're not giving them true freedom.
I hope that back in the UK, people will wake up to the fact that the country needs to re-engage in politics. For too long the country has been drifting, by the apathy of her voters. We need to get involved in politics again, start to clean up the mess in Whitehall, when in an attempt at defense of their jobs, politicians like Peter Hain are attacking civil liberties. We also need to look at ourselves, and work out why we've created a society where a percentage of the electorate believe extremism is the way forwards. This is OUR problem. Fight it.
For my post-election response, see here.