Saturday, October 24, 2009

BNP Nick Griffin on BBC Question Time

I don't know anything about British politics, never heard of the British National Party (BNP), and much less of their leader Nick Griffin and his extremist views that Britain should remain fundamentally white. While white supremacy is nothing new, what is refreshing is that BBC has given him an opportunity to air his views in public. Giving white supremacy any sort of attention, much less on prime time television, is a very dangerous affair, and the controversy was brewing for some time on Financial Times, so I decided to check out what's the whole deal about.

And what transpired from the video I watched was, in my opinion, a triumph of free speech and democracy, where ideologies and arguments are allowed to stand or fall on their own merits. Against a panel of admittedly very illustrious opponents, Nick Griffin, a more oratically gifted one perhaps(an Obama with that Hitler moustache?) could have grasped control of the stage and turned the table against the incumbents. Instead he hemed and hawed, backtracked many times and and was reduced to nervous laughter, which drew swift and sharp rebuttals ("Why are you smiling? It's not a particularly funny matter."). The straw men he built over the course of his political career, denying the Holocaust for example, cosying up to the Ku Klax Clan for example, were admittedly his major liabilities. His rambling ways betrayed a complete lack of clarity of thoughts.

But of course, BBC must have known the outcome in advance. They strategised right down to the last detail--why else invite an American black woman on the panel, who would be both an academic and moral authority to speak on the Ku Klax Clan--to milk maximum humiliation for all Nick Griffin was worth. The trojan horse was delivered, and the bait was taken. The only person there to defray the heat was hapless Jack Straw, UK Home Affairs Minister, who was being blamed for giving birth to the BNP through 12 years of lax immigration laws. So we have a curious case of unwilling father and bastard son, sitting uncomfortably side by side. The 2 women panelists came off with their reputations enhanced. You wouldn't want Sayeeda Warsi sitting opposite you in any debate competition. Eloquent and displaying a sort of economic rationale that is difficult to refute--"this is no longer a race issue, but a resources issue"--she is one daunting opponent. Bonnie Greer, disarmingly humourous and chummy with her snide comments, is just danger.

Add to the mix an engaging and at times emotional audience, and a sprinkling of beautiful people, this is as fun as politics can ever be.

Last note, if the programme had set out to humiliate Nick Griffin, it would have comfortably met its objectives. But I don't think anybody from either side of the ideological divide--liberals and supremists alike--would be convinced to switch camp on the sole basis of a TV programme. Thoughts are entrenched in people over the course of a lifetime. The brain entertains a million thoughts a day, but most of them are just repetitions in various guises, and only reinforce the structure of the brain, compelling the next thought that comes along to travel along well-worn synapses. It is less a philosophical problem than a biological one. It takes enormous commitment and intellectual honesty to come clean with oneself and reorganise our own house of thoughts. Far easier to let the cobwebs manifest themselves in their own ways, rightly or wrongly, and allow ourselves to be forever entangled in our own convoluted web of thoughts.

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