By Lucy James
It's not hard to intellectually undermine the far-right party – don't just dismiss its racist arguments, break them down.
Last weekend the BNP's annual shindig, "Red, White and Blue
", took place in a small town in Derbyshire. Reports said that there were actually fewer attendees
than there were anti-fascist protesters outside the gate. Unfortunately, some of these anti-BNP protesters soon became violent – leading to 19 being arrested
. Although it is good to see ordinary people protesting against the BNP, such protests become ineffective when they descend into heavy-handed violence. Just a week earlier, for example, violent clashes
erupted between the English Defence League and Unite Against Fascism in Birmingham, leading to bottles, sticks and banners thrown, and brought police in riot gear on to the streets. This ended up actually boosting the BNP after the Daily Mail and other papers ran full-page pictures of Asian youths attacking white protesters
Violence is not the answer to countering the BNP. A paper I authored entitled In Defence of British Muslims: A response to BNP racist propaganda
was released last week. Since about 2006 (particularly post-7/7), the BNP has consciously changed its rhetoric from being overtly anti-Asian, anti-black and anti-Jewish to being ardently anti-Muslim. My paper takes 10 of the key accusations made against Islam and British Muslims by the BNP and points out their intellectual inconsistencies and factual weaknesses. Rather than simply dismissing the BNP's ideology as racist or bigoted (an approach that the BNP's steady popularity proves is not working) or resorting to violence, there needs to be a greater focus on intellectually undermining it through a systematic deconstruction of its arguments.
This task is not particularly taxing. The BNP's arguments are easily undermined using proper statistics and historical and textual evidence. Nick Griffin's broad argument is that Islam is an "efficient imperialistic machine" with a "conscious and deliberate plan" to take over and Islamify Europe and install an Islamic state.
First, Islam is not a religion with a cunning master-plan for its adherents to emigrate with the intention of mass conversion. The Islamic concept of migration (hijrah
) is to flee from religious persecution rather than a calculated drive for world domination. Second, Muslims constitute roughly 3.3% of Britain's entire population (according to government estimates
in 2008). Despite population increases, is one of the greatest threats to the UK today really an impending Islamic takeover?
The BNP makes a significant proportion of its accusations on the basis of the impending Islamic state; one that will restrict individual freedoms and apply a literalistic form of Islamic penal code. These are arguments that Griffin has (knowingly) made on the basis of the ideas of a small minority of Islamists rather than the majority Muslim population; projecting extremist interpretations as representative of Islam in general. The BNP takes this even further, making the claim that Muslims support the tactics of jihadists
: "The fifth characteristic of immigrant Muslim populations in all nations has been their widespread support for terrorism." This claim of "widespread support" is in fact based on a 9% figure taken from a 2006 NOP report, and is therefore both hyperbolic and factually inaccurate.
This is an intellectual battle that needs to take place at all levels of society. The specific allegations against Islam need to be refuted, at least in part, by Muslim communities themselves. Rather than extremist voices, the majority Muslim population needs to acquire the confidence to undermine the slurs being made against it and show that it will not be held to account for the actions of a minority faction of Islamist extremists.
This intellectual challenge also needs to be made by the British politicians who claim to represent the Muslim communities. The British MEPs' recent shunning
of Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons in the European parliament is certainly a step in the right direction, but we also need a simultaneous breakdown of their arguments. Nick Clegg's description of the BNP
as "a party of thugs" or David Cameron's statement that he was "sickened" by their EU election success will not alone persuade people not to vote BNP. Jon Cruddas, Labour MP for Dagenham, wrote in a foreword to the paper that "The political class has recoiled in shock and indignation following the BNP's recent electoral successes, yet has failed to confront the way they demonise British Muslims … because of this vacuum the BNP have been able to focus on an extremist Islamism as being representative of the views of all Muslims."
Finally, British society needs to start responding more thoughtfully to the views of the BNP. These issues are not limited to British Muslims. The BNP has not abandoned its sentiments towards other minority communities (its whites-only admission policy
is under scrutiny by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission), and other minority groups must also stand up to such discrimination. Muslim communities should not face intolerance in isolation, but should be bolstered by the support of British society as a whole. Smear campaigns against BNP candidates who supposedly have "Nazi" written on their number-plates
are insufficient. The BNP needs to be intellectually challenged by all who condemn concepts of racism, intolerance and segregation, and stand for a free and fair society in Britain.
(Warning: Source contains a small picture of the author who is a female, so if brothers must visit it, lower your gaze!)
Lucy James is research fellow at the Quilliam Foundation.