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Head to Head

Here’s a conversation that George from The Spitoon and I had in the thread below. The subject was the current round of preachers of hate, who are presently touring Britain.

George is an opponent on principle of the banning of extremists from Britain.

George

What do you think we can do to challenge these tours around Britain?

It appears to make no difference that their views are exposed. The institutions that host them are – from time to time – expelled from the circle of Government consultees. I get the impression that these minor acts of discipline are rather pro tem.

I do not believe that there is any fully thought through policy in Government on the way to deal with the growth of this fascist politics. Perhaps it isn’t for the Government to combat it, as you say. But frankly, who else is there?

We’ve just seen an unprecedented mobilisation – unsuccessful as it happens – against Nick Griffin’s BNP, and huge consternation at his conduct. Yet there is no sign – none at all – that any of the organisations or the people so outspoken in their opposition to BNP fascism have anything to say about this man [Bilal Phillips], and the many many others like him. Indeed, the leadership of the SWP and SA aligned organisations, that masquerade as anti-racist, would regard this article of yours as deeply racist.

So what do you think should be done, and how can we make it happen?

George replied:

Ultimately my position is an ideological one. I simply do not believe in limits on speech where “fighting talk” is not used. As for how I would “challenge” these speakers, I think we should go. You, me and other interested parties (Quilliam?), we should raise the same issues that I mention here and let Bilal Philips discredit himself before his audience through having to admit to or deny his own opinions. If the iERA speakers spill into “fighting talk” then it could become a matter for the government/police, but otherwise this is an issue which I believe should be dealt with by civil society rather than governmental institutions.

Fundamentally, what I want from the government is a preventative approach rather than this kind of “fire fighting”. I simple cannot accept the usage of the blunt instrument of banning speakers – with the comcomitant limitations on freedom of speech in this country – in lieu of a “fully thought through policy in Government.” Even if the challenge which would be presented by you and me going along to these events and asking tricky questions would not be nearly as effective as simply banning the speakers, that’s a situation I’d be willing to accept to preserve an institutional commitment to the values which make me proud to be British.

As for what form preventative policy would take, that is the $64,000 question. I am hoping to get a guest post on the Spittoon soon from a correspondent of mine who is involved with an interfaith centre at an American university. Their work and the institutions in place there successfully discourage religious extremism from becoming an issue on campus. There is also a French organisation which does some interesting work in the banlieus of Paris: I have a correspondent who has been involved with them and I am intending to guest post him at the Spittoon soon. Of course there are, as with any analogies, important differences between the British experience of religious extremism and that of other countries, but I think there is much that we could learn from what has been tried elsewhere.

I am sure that you and many others will have interesting ideas to contribute on the question of preventative policy, which is a topic I really hope can be encouraged to come to the forefront of debate in this area.

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