Whether or not I agree with them, “historian” David Irvine and BNP chairman Nick Griffin are entitled to their views – everyone is free to believe whatever they want. What I strongly disagree with, however, is the argument – even supported by Labour’s Higher Education Minister – that giving such people a platform gives the audience the opportunity to knock down their opinions.
The problem is I don’t believe that most people are capable of knocking down the arguments of those like Nick Griffin or David Irvine. Why? Because neither Griffin nor Irvine, or others like them, are stupid. Those who invite them to speak in the belief that they can easily knock down their arguments are the stupid ones.
It is utterly naive to believe that people who hold racist or bigoted views are intellectually deficient. Their views may be ignorant, but this does not make such people unintelligent. I may not agree with what they say or believe but that does not mean that they are not able to convey their arguments in a way that is convincing, and that can – on face value – sound plausible.
Those who have led – and lead – racist movements and parties have never been idiots. They have always been sophisticated (at least on the surface) with an air of respectability, well-educated men with slick words, who use statistics and research to reinforce their arguments and who are able to manipulate the public’s fears, weaknesses and vulnerabilities to their own ends. Unfortunately those who think they are capable of arguing against such people are often not as prepared or informed about their side of the argument as the bigots are.
Hitler was not a stupid man – he could not have been to have organized such systematic and calculated atrocities on such a grand scale. Those who followed him and carried out his order were doctors, engineers, lawyers – people with more than half a brain – taken in by the supposed legitimacy, at the time, of his views. Nick Griffin is also not a fool – he studied law and history at Cambridge. Believing that racists are missing a few brain cells is convenient, but plays right into their hands. Once they start talking some may actually be impressed by the apparent lucidity and coherence of their views, making it even more important that such people are not given high profile platforms from which to speak.
The liberals of the world have good intentions, but sometimes such intentions can be naive and misguided. Prejudice and racism are extremely complex. The Griffins and Irvines of this world are well aware of that. They know that respectability is key.
Let’s not play into their hands by underestimating them… Unfortunately I feel the Oxford Union has already done that.