So tonight, Nick Griffin, the leader of the BNP will appear on prime time British TV in a debate with other politicians. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? On the one hand, we seem to be hearing some people (including the Beeb) say that his appearance is legitimate and should be accepted as part of a liberal democracy. They claim his views will demonstrate the position of he BNP. Diane Abbot has said that his appearance will éxpose the BNP for what they are - a racist and offensive party. On the other hand, we have peoplesaying that he should be stopped from appearing and there will no doubt be a number of people blockading and parading outside the BBC in television centre this evenig making just that point. So who is right - and is there a definitive 'Christian' position on this?
Personally, I think that Griffin should be allowed to appear. Whether we like it or not (and I personally find the BNP obnoxious and very, very wrong in their view of those whose skin is a different colour) the reality is that he was democratically elected as an M.E.P. and his party has a small, but not insignificant base of support. We cannot simply ban him from appearances on T.V. or pretend that he doesn't exist. I may find his views offensive, but in a liberal democracy I don;t have the right to shut him up. Hopefully, he will make a fool of himself and demonstrate that his party has shallow thinking, aggressive and anti-social policies and a core identity which is dangerous, aggressive and a threat to civil society. The fact that their constitution has already been suspended by the judiciary and we now await the outcome of their own deliberations and debates onhow to wangle their way round the law is interesting. Just what would the BNP do if a large number of decided to join in order to deliberately sabotage its racist stance? My hunch is, though, that he will present himself as the voice of a reasoned Britain, and will play the politics of fear - challenging listeners and viewers to think about protecting their communities, defening the rights of British people and he will stir up xenophobic sentiment in a quiet but therefore even more distrubing way. He'll press buttons that resonate with many Brits - fear of Europe, concern about identity and values and the quiet anxiety felt by many that 'our way of life is beinf eroded'. I hope the other panellists get under his skin, that the audience manage to uncoverthe dark underbelly of the BNP and that the real poison and malevolence of the BNP shows itself in the unplanned moments and reactions. But what if it doesn't? What if the BNP present as the party of reasonable choices tonight? What if everything is masked in respectability and dressed in traditional language? What do we do then?
That's the thing you see - I may not agree with Griffin, but I defend his right to be allowed to speak. I value and prize the freedom of speech we have in this country - but the very fact that I value it and repect it in others means it needs to be respected in me. Would the Beeb celebrate and welcome the input of someone like me? A social commentator from a strong Christian tradition with clear views on issues such as right to life, sexuality and the role and importance of the Church? Why is it that our 'public' broadcasters can welcome someone like Griffin in the name of freedom of speech yet so often guard and exlcude those of us with a strong religious or faith-fuelled voice. One of the reasons I think Griffin should be allowed to speak is because I believe I have the right to speak - you do, anyone within the UK with a clear view and a place in the public suqare.
Griffin represents a few thousand voters - maybe a hundred or two hundred thousand at the most. As a follower of Christ and the leader of a Christian charity, I am part of around 11,000,000 voices in the UK. My views on community development, foreign policy, immigration, housing, unemployment, thebanking crisis and political life in the UK can be quickly and shame-facedly disregarded by the BBC and others because they are afraid of my description of myself as a Christian. How come Griffin can be welcomed yet people like me marginalised? This is the paradox and the problem with the way we view freedom of speech.
The Beeb has established once again the precedent that it exists as a public broadcaster. So when will that public broadcaster recognise that the voices of millions of people of faith are squashed and marginaled in the name of protectionof human rights? If Griffin can appear, why not me, or a muslim, or a hindu? My view is we should be welcomed and what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. I look forward to another invitation to join the Question time panel!
One word of caution to those of us who, as Christians, think we have the right to be heard but don't thinkGriffin does? We need to be careful not to cut off the very freedom we seek in our quest to silence those with whom we disagree. The British people aren't stupid - Griffin will eventually show himself for what he (and his party) is. We must be careful to stand for freedom - even when we disagree with the voices who take advantage of it. We deny their freedom, then we give them the right to deny ours.
What do you think?