Griffin was right about one thing

Nick Griffin was right about one thing: Churchill would have felt at home in the BNP.

The appearance of Nick Griffin, leader of the British Nartional Party, on BBC Question Time on October 22, 2009 has led to massive debate across the UK. Those in favour of freedom of speech advocated for Griffin to be allowed on the programme in the interests of exposing him. Those opposing said that there should be no platform for fascists and that Griffin and the BNP would only benefit from the publicity, no matter what was actually debated. I agree with the latter position and have always done so. Rare words of sense were written by Gary Younge in the Guardian reminding us that the other panelists, in particular Jack Straw, as the representative of New Labour is as guilty (if not more so) of encouraging racism in Britain as Griffin, especially considering Straw’s incendiary 2007 remarks on the niqab and the direct link between this and rising Islamophobia.

The panelists on Question Time were literally falling over themselves to show themselves to be tolerant and non-racist in the face of Griffin’s blatant racism. However, the mechanisms they chose to do this by resorted to the tried and tested recourse to patriotism (critiqued by Paul Gilroy in There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack with regards the Anti-Nazi Leagues in 1987).Griffin was asked to comment on his statement that “If Churchill were alive today, his own place would be in the British National Party.” This led to outrage expressed by the other panelists who accused the BNP of hijacking Churchill as its own. But the uncomfortable truth is that Griffin is right: if Churchill were alive he would share the beliefs of the BNP because he did so in his day. It is a delusion to think that Britain fought the Second World War because it oposed racism. Churchill, in particular, was a eugenicist, having drafted the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913, the only law on eugenics to be passed through the British parliament (albeit never out into effect).

Griffin said on Question Time that “Churchill in his younger days was extremely critical of fundamentalist Islam.” Whereas it may not have been called that in Churchill’s day, according to

Churchill’s view was reinforced by his experiences as a young British officer serving, and fighting, in Arab and Muslim lands, and in South Africa. Like most of his contemporaries, family and friends, he regarded races as different, racial characteristics as signs of the maturity of a society, and racial purity as endangered not only by other races but by mental weaknesses within a race. As a young politician in Britain entering Parliament in 1901, Churchill saw what were then known as the “feeble-minded” and the “insane” as a threat to the prosperity, vigour and virility of British society.

Eugenics-707895“The improvement of the British breed is my aim in life,” Winston Churchill wrote to his cousin Ivor Guest on 19 January 1899, shortly after his twenty-fifth birthday. A fuller account of his abhorrent beliefs can be read here.

Suffice is to conclude that a reversion to British patriotism and dubious figures such as Churchill as a means of tackling the abhorrence of the far-right has and will never be sufficient. Having been said, it is hardly surprising that this – along with blatant anti-immigration one-upmanship – was the only tactic employed by the Griffin pathetic QT co-panelists (with the exception of the only non-politican, Bonnie Greer).


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  • Matt Goode

    October 23, 2009

    Nice article Alana. While I laud you for being an iconoclast, do you fear that by vindicting the BNP’s use of Churchill, that you are not tearing him down, but raising Griffin up? In particular, the historical verdict on Churchill is fairly well entrenched. By associating the BNP and Churchill, are you legitimatizing their views. True, Churchill was a racist. And this is not to excuse him, but could you not argue that he was a product of his time, his class, his education, etc. That since then, vast improvements – even enlightening progress – have been made on these fronts because of dedicated activists, mass education, legislative reform, etc. For example, even as late as the 1960s, in my country many people viewed the African American quest for equal rights as outrageous. However, today no self-respecting person – even in rural Mississippi – would hold the same beliefs as their grandparents. So my point is not to let Churchill off the hook – but he held those beliefs almost 50 years ago. The BNP and Griffin have been locked in a time capsule for that time and *still* holds those views and probably worse.

    >> On a similar topic – with your book coming out in America for teenagers, I hope that you have some information that addresses race athletics. If there is a last bastion of racism, it is in the belief that some races are “better” at certain sports than others. In particular there is a lot empirical “evidence” that cites the overwhelming number of AA athletes in leagues like the NBA, or the view numbers of AA NFL Quarterbacks (see Rush Limbaugh comments), or even that AA athletes cannot swim… as proof that there are eugenic properties to race. Would love to see your response to that notion, I think a chapter on Race and Sport would really be interesting to the American teenager.

  • Francois Joliot

    October 24, 2009

    Hi Alana:

    I want to comment on your post as you invited us to read it on Gary’s wall.

    The truth is I probably agree with Gary’s conclusion that New Labour is to blame for the rise of the BNP however I very much disagree with the justification.

    In your post, you too seem to consider that Jack Straw’s comments on the niqab were incendiary or offensive. I am very much supportive of the right for women (or men) to freely choose how to dress within the bounds of decency in public (although I highly support the right of men and women to also go fully naked on naturist beaches if they feel like it). As such my first view on the niqab is: if some muslim want to wear it, then they should. However, there are some additional factors there that also need to be taken into account. First of all – it is well known and well documented that the wearing of the niqab is very often under the constraint of family environment (husband, father) etc (I tell you immediately that I am ready to concede that some muslim women will say they wear it totally from their own will). As such – and also because in some Muslim countries (or some specific regions of Muslim countries – for instance there is a big difference between big cities in Syria (Aleppo/ Damascus) where you will see women unveiled, and some more remote villages where you won’t see any unveiled women)) wearing the niqab is a constraint for women, and also prevents them from engaging in societal activities, or what would one call emancipation. The same happens in some places in France, and women’s associations (composed of 1srt or second generation immigrants) are fighting a long and hard battle to change mentalities.

    The point of the niqab is that it established an assymetric relationship between the person that wears it and the person that does not. I can bee seen, but I can’t see. One of the main characters of our societies, and part of our humanist experience is that, as French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas said in 1981 in Ethique & Infini, that I am able to engage with somebody else, and therefore reflect on my own humanity because I can see the other’s face, in its nudity, which means it vulnerability, reminding me of my own vulnerability. Not only therefore do I consider wearing the niqab deshumanising for the person that wears it, but also for me as well. And this is true of all sort of fully veiled types. Remember the Klu – Klux – Klan wearing their long white robes. This is of the same order (I tell you immediately I do not compare Islam to KKK but I am just using this as an analogy – it could be Christians, Jews or Buddhist wearing the niqab, my comments would be the same).

    What do you think ?

  • John

    March 20, 2010

    I am a youth worker, working in Britain.

    I have started up a new blog to share my experiences as a youth worker in this country. Some of the content there will shock you (I’ve been a youth worker for 5 years, so it will constantly be updated!), especially concerning racism.

    Here is my first post covering this topic, and the attitudes of a young person:

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