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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Why we should not ban the BNP from our classrooms

Nick Cohen sums up many of my thoughts in the Observer today on moves by trade unions and some Government Ministers to ban members of the BNP from working as teachers. It is worth quoting it extensively:

As statements of basic principle never win you friends in England, I will state the theoretical objection that it is unjust to penalise men and women for their political views without further evidence of wrongdoing only briefly and move on to the practical difficulties.

According to its membership records, there are about 12,000 BNP members. Finding and firing them would be a task the like of which Britain has never undertaken before. As Stalin's armies imposed dictatorships across Europe, George Orwell warned the 1945 Labour government about the dangers of employing real and potential Soviet agents in the Foreign Office. It followed his advice, but outside the diplomatic corps and security services, British McCarthyism was a puny phenomenon.

He concludes:

Assuming it can unmask them, that is. For finding out who is a BNP member is nowhere near as easy as it sounds. When the list of members appeared on the net last year, many on it complained that they had nothing to do with neo-fascism. If Labour instigates a purge of the public sector, it will need tribunals to ask the victims of dismissal: "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the British National party" and weigh the veracity of their denials.

Instead of adopting the methods of the witch-finder, ministers could try behaving like politicians. They could abandon selective anti-fascism and notice that many of the supposedly left-wing thinkers and trade union leaders who urge them to sack BNP members have been happy to share platforms with the reactionary ultras of Jamaat-i-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood, as indeed have Jack Straw and many another Labour grandee.

Opposing sectarianism equally without regard to colour and creed would not only be principled, but would have the additional advantage of reducing racism in the white working class.

The current double standard is the result of a version of multiculturalism, which has placed a sinister and ignorant emphasis on race and religion. Immigrants, and particularly their children, have not been acknowledged as full British citizens, but stuffed into boxes labelled "the blacks", "the Muslims", "the Hindus" and seen everyone from the local council to the BBC treat unelected and sectarian "community leaders" as their authentic representatives. Idiotically, the proponents of multiculturalism forget that the working class could play the same game, label itself as "the whites" and insist that society must uncritically "celebrate its diversity" as well. Given the scale of the folly, we should be grateful that the BNP vote remains so small.

The chances of ministers correcting past errors are long. But I live in the hope that in its dying days, Labour will grasp that you don't defeat opponents by briefing lawyers and quangocrats, but by fighting the battle of ideas as if you meant to win it.

Nick Cohen is absolutely right. These sort of witch hunts achieve nothing apart from creating martyrs, underlining the anti-establishment credentials of those they seek to penalise and driving the potential targets underground.

Objectionable as they are the BNP are a legitimate party. We must fight them by exposing the bankruptcy of their ideas, by putting in place solutions to the problems they exploit and by campaigning hard on the issues in the communities they are targeting. Their creed has no place in the classroom but teachers must be judged on their behaviour and their teaching methods not on the labels they wear.

The sort of purge of public service employees being promoted by some is not just un-British but undemocratic. As ever in these things one should judge the appropriateness of our views and actions by imagining the situation being reversed. Would we be happy if the BNP were in power and using our actions as a precedent to sack those on the left from employment? No we wouldn't and nor should we be content with this idea to treat the BNP membership in that way either.
There was a similar case made on Harry's Place the other day, too. If a teacher abuses their positon, fine, get rid of them. Otherwise stop policing their thoughts, however objectionable. Agreed.

And people shouldn't think of this as defending the BNP; rather they're defending principles of freedom.
Makes a change to agree with you Peter
If the BNP got banned from teaching,where would it end.Next Muslims,conservative and labour supporters.Well we dont want our kids being influenced by thieves do we.They were democratically elected and i am sure they would leave their views and politics out of the class room.Too many sites are looking for the most stupid ways to stop them.At the end of the day theyre doing nothing more than giving them publicity.
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