It isn't just the BNP that has racist ideas

By Jonathan Bartley
June 14, 2009

Putting aside my disappointment at once again not making the Queen’s Birthday Honours (that's sarcasm for those who might think I'm serious) I really enjoyed debating today on the Big Questions with fellow panellists Benjamin Zephaniah, and Tory Prospective Parliamentary Candidate Louise Bagshawe, advocating republicanism and equality within the NHS.

But the biggest question (of the ‘Big Questions’) was about the BNP. The specific question was about whether we should listen to them. My feeling is that you can’t counter hatred with hatred, and the strategy employed of simply shouting down the BNP or trying to freeze them out doesn’t do much good. Rousing speeches condemning them (as we saw from Louise today) won’t do anything to help matters although they will win a lot of applause and make everyone feel a bit better about themselves. What it does do is make the BNP appear as victims and reinforces a persecution complex, winning them sympathy and support. It certainly does little to give people reasons not to vote for the BNP.

There is much more to be gained by an alternative strategy of engaging with the BNP – being unequivocal of course in condemning racism, but also listening to what they have to say and asking them probing questions, exposing their racist views as well as their many misguided policies.

On the programme today, I used one of the questions posted by Jai on Pickled Politics and asked newly elected BNP MEP Andrew Brons whether, given that we can now determine people’s origins from hundreds of years ago, he would take a DNA test to determine whether he has non-european ancestry, and if so, whether he would then submit to ‘repatriation’ in line with BNP ideas.

It worked I think in exposing the futility and incoherence of his argument about any 'indigenous' population, somehow native to the UK.

But what I would have liked to see a little more debate about too, was the fact that the immigration policies of the main political parties are not a million miles away from those of the BNP. Indeed, they are also racist in that they accept or refuse people depending on which part of the world they come from. It's an uncomfortable fact - and one that the main parties don’t have to face as long as they can shout at the BNP from afar without engaging with them in discussion about immigration, and seeing their uncomfortable similarities.

Vaughan Jones, director of Praxis which works with displaced persons in the East End of London did a paper for Ekklesia which touched on this here:

He puts it like this:

“Immigration controls actually are racist, if I can be permitted to make that assertion in a calm philosophical way rather than a rhetorical manner. What is race? In its essence 'race theory' determines that physiological differences between human beings have meaning beyond the physical and impact upon the political, economic, social and cultural realm. This is a construction.

“Immigration controls are the imposition of the conception of race into another construction - the political unit of the nation state. Once you define the nation, then you define the need for population controls, along with defence, self-interest in trade and so on. Citizenship is defined by birth or adoption, but principally it is defined along ethnic lines. No matter how nicely you say it, effectively by advocating immigration controls you are advocating a difference of rights on the basis of ethnicity. That is the unspoken part of the debate. Immigration controls are racist.”

It’s time that the political debate about immigration acknowledged its racist dimension.

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