Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mainstreaming fascism, again

Forget, for a second, the arguments about the 'no platform' policy.  We can return to those.  This is not an argument about 'no platform'.  Nor is this an argument about that much misunderstood idea, 'free speech'.  On Monday's BBC Newsnight, the programme hosted the EDL leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, a former BNP member and convicted violent offender.  This was shortly after the EDL's major funder had described the attack as 'chickens coming home to roost', and just as there were serious allegations of major organisational connections between the EDL and Anders Behring Breivik.

The official brief, as announced on Twitter, was to investigate those alleged connections between Breivik and the EDL.  In fact, what took place was that Yaxley-Lennon was given ample space in which to represent and misrepresent his position.  I won't pretend that Yaxley-Lennon was made to look good: he couldn't possibly look good in this context.  He looked shifty, sweaty, determined to avoid answering important questions, talking over his interlocutor as much as possible, etc.  Yet, this was entirely out of proportion to the intensity of Paxman's questioning, and the EDL leader was permitted to utter, without being seriously challenged, a number of outright falsehoods and misrepresentations.  For example, he was permitted to claim that he had no knowledge of Daryl Hobson, the EDL member who apparently liaised with Anders Behring Breivik.  This was a lie.  Since the television programme was supposedly investigating these connections, the least it could have been expected to do was the bare minimum of research before the programme began.  But in fact little research was evident, and Yaxley-Lennon's claims were typically taken at face value.  He was permitted to claim that Breivik was hostile to the EDL on the grounds that they are an 'anti-racist' organisation, which is also untrue.  He quoted from page 1438 of the manifesto written by Breivik to the following effect:

The EDL are in fact anti-racist, anti-fascist and anti-Nazi. They have many members and leaders with non-European background (African and Asian)…EDL and KT (Brievik) principles can never be reconciled as we are miles apart ideologically…The EDL harshly condemns any movement that use terror as a tool, such as the KT. This is why, we, the KT, view the EDL as naïve fools.

Paxman allowed him to do this, and did not challenge his account.  However, if you read the manifesto, and I have (and you would expect Jeremy Paxman to have read it), you will know this quote (which does appear in some versions of the document) does not exhaust the references to the EDL, and is inconsistent with other segments.  In other references, it is clear that Breivik is deeply sympathetic to the EDL and admires their tactics.  He is concerned that, in his terms, "conservative intellectuals contribute to help them on the right ideological path. And to ensure that they continue to reject criminal, racist and totalitarian doctrines".  In other words, this mass murderer and racial supremacist is worried that the EDL might become a bit too racist and thuggish for his tastes.  The thrust of Yaxley-Lennon's lies and misrepresentations was to exonerate the EDL, and Paxman let him do it.

Lastly, he was permitted repeatedly to attack Islam, describe Islam as a "threat" and claim that Muslim leaders shared the ideology of terrorists.  And he suggested that within five years there would be similar violence in the UK if nothing was done about the Muslim problem.  (This is not the first time he has made this threat.  It is the first time has made it after a major European fascist psychopath has gone on the rampage, killing dozens of 'traitor' children).  Having thus deflected the blame from the EDL, and planted it squarely on Muslims and Islam, he issued a threat of violence that he denied was a threat of violence.  And Paxman accepted his explanation of that threat as a non-threat, and treated this lunatic as if he was a normal human being.  Given the circumstances, the EDL was given the easiest possible ride, and came out having put the best possible face on it.  This was facilitated by the BBC and by Jeremy Paxman.  In fact, there's a history of Paxman being singularly unable to deal with EDL or fascist leaders, despite him having such a mountainous reputation as an intimidating interviewer.

Part of the problem here is context.  The media feeds from the media.  Interviewers, even braying, horse-faced, upper class pitbulls, essentially work within a consensus defined by the media.  They ask questions based on what they think the average pundit would want to see asked.  But that in turn is limited by what the average pundit is likely to know.  And one would not know from the media's coverage that the vast majority of 'terrorist' attacks in Europe are the fruit of various nationalist struggles, nor that the preponderance of recent preparations for terror in the UK have been coming from the far right.  So, Paxman works within a media consensus that has reserved the 'terrorism' label for Muslims, defined Muslims as a major security threat, and repeatedly construed Islam as containing something essentially at variance with 'Western civilization'.  Meanwhile, it has depicted multiculturalism as a failure, a source of 'legitimate grievances', and the 'white working class' as an ethnic-cultural entity that ostentatiously inarticulate spokespersons like Stephen Yaxley-Lennon can claim to represent.  This at least partially explains Paxman's extraordinary timidity in dealing with racists and thugs.

Which brings me to this: even setting aside the arguments about 'no platform', there is a perfectly excellent reason why the BBC should not host racists and fascists.  They're no bloody good at it.  They always claim that they're 'exposing' the fascists, showing them up, letting people know what they're really all about.  And they never deliver on that promise.  Time after time, BNP and EDL members have been brought on television in what are often the most cosy circumstances and permitted to ventilate lies, misrepresentations, slanders and threats without serious challenge.  And now, after Yaxley-Lennon's appearance on Newsnight, it turns out he's been doing the daytime television circuit.  This thug, this violent racist at the head of a gang of violent racists and Nazis, is being normalised.  His ideas are being communicated to mass audiences without serious rebuttal or challenge, and are thus being normalised - and this is happening in a situation where the EDL and the BNP and all the thugs in their periphery should be languishing in utter disgrace.

ps: There's a petition being circulated over this issue, please sign.