Saturday, 24 October 2009

Spotting the Danger.

The big national drama this week has been the appearance of Nick Griffin, of the British National Party, on last Thursday's Question Time. It's spawned more immediate debate and commentary than almost any other single event that I can remember.

I watched the programme with a growing sense of disappointment - not with the BBC for broadcasting, but rather because of the rather smug way in which the politicians lined up to put the boot in.

I'm not in favour of giving racists the oxygen of oxygen, let alone the oxygen of publicity, but in a democracy once a critical mass has passed -and the BNP did pick up a million votes at the European elections - it's time to scrutinise and deconstruct the arguments. TV can do this, provided it retains an objective.

My worry was that the politicians' anger (although justified) and the orchestrated collective attack only plays directly into the mythology of the underdog, fighting the complacent arrogance of those in power - Robin Hood's merry men, Henry V's troops at Agincourt, the Spitfire pilots at the Battle of Britain. It's the very folk mythology the BNP are constantly trying to appropriate.

The BNP is a party that stokes up our fears of 'the other.' It exploits our weakest emotions and our laziest thoughts. It offers security in the tribe. The programme may have exposed Griffin in the eyes of the cosmopolitan media but I'm not sure how it played out on the sink estates of Burnley, Dagenham or Bradford, where it's easy to target immigration and Islam as the cause of unemployment, poverty and deprivation.

As as leader Griffin is more of a ridiculous clown than a reincarnated Hitler and, although the protests outside the Beeb were welcome, I don't believe that violence is needed to bring down the BNP in its present format. As Bonnie Greer, the best of the panelists, demonstrated, for now, the best attack is honesty, intelligence and humour. Clowns can be nihilistic though and do need watching.

If there is a parallel then the rhetoric of the BNP reminds me of Milosevic's early nineties defence of Serbian nationalism, against the perceived threats from Bosnian Muslims; a rhetoric which, unchecked, caught fire and ended up in the genocides and ethnic cleansing that split the former Yugoslavia. It wasn't just Slavic temperament or unfinished business that caused this, it was the false fear multiculturalism. It's rhetoric which still echoes in the Balkans today. Karadzic's trail in The Hague opens on Monday, it'll be a reminder to the world of the what can happen when we stop wanting to live and learn from each other. For anti-racists, controlling the pitch is as important as asserting the true narrative.

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