Monday, 22 March 2010

Griffin, Geert, Question Time, and the unquestionable

On 22 October 2009, despite protests from career protesters, and prominent members of the Labour party, the BBC proceeded with its plan to have BNP leader Nick Griffin on Question Time.

I couldn't find a transcript, so I produced some fairly extensive notes of my own — whatever we may say about the cost of the BBC's iPlayer, there's no disputing its usefulness.

The topics were interesting, and I couldn't resist some commentary. I've been sitting on my notes for several months now, but news of Geert Wilder's latest visit to the UK prompted me to dust them off.

The outcome of the programme was predictable: Nick Griffin was exposed as a shifty, bigoted, duplicitous amateur, whose crudeness stood in marked contrast to the polished duplicity of the mainstream politicians. Throughout, the cosmopolitan audience cheered and jeered like a pack of animals.

Nevertheless, worthwhile points were raised on all sides.


The opening question related to the BNP's hijacking of Churchill's image. This was rightly denounced, and Jack Straw took the opportunity to highlight the vital contribution of black and Asian subjects to the victory of the British empire in WWI and WWII (2:24).

Griffin did not dispute this, but countered that Churchill, with his views on immigration and Islam, would not be accepted by any mainstream political parties today (4:14). For those unfamiliar with these views, here's an excerpt from The Story of the Malakand Field Force:
Indeed it is evident that Christianity, however degraded and distorted by cruelty and intolerance, must always exert a modifying influence on men's passions, and protect them from the more violent forms of fanatical fever, as we are protected from smallpox by vaccination. But the Mahommedan religion increases, instead of lessening, the fury of intolerance. It was originally propagated by the sword, and ever since, its votaries have been subject, above the people of all other creeds, to this form of madness.

That such views would today exclude Churchill from political life seems indisputable. Whether he would think and say such things if he were alive today, we can never know. But we should lament our crushing climate of political correctness, which precludes open discussion of important issues. Wherever rational debate is stifled, emotionally-charged extremism will thrive.

Holocaust denial

Discussion then turned to Nick Griffin himself. He was confronted by well-dressed black man who angrily asserted that "the vast majority of this audience find what you stand for to be completely disgusting" (6:15). The riotous applause that followed left no doubt that the man was correct. Griffin replied: "if you look at some of the things I'm quoted as having said ... I'd be a monster. These things are outrageous lies" (6:33).

Dimbleby pressed Griffin for details: "Which is the untrue quote that's been said about you, the Holocaust denial?" (6:39). Griffin replied, with a sickly half-simle: "I do not have a conviction for Holocaust denial" (6:55).

Later in the program, a young man in a skullcap made passionate reference (18:26) to another Griffin quote, which is apparently from a 2001 episode of Panorama:
I am well aware that the orthodox opinion is that six million Jews were gassed and cremated and turned into lampshades. Orthodox opinion also once held that the world is flat ... I have reached the conclusion that the 'extermination' tale is a mixture of Allied wartime propaganda, extremely profitable lie, and latter witch-hysteria.
Griffin's response here was particularly unsatisfying: "I cannot explain why I used to say those things" ... because of "European Law" (18:48). I assume the law he referred to is the European Union Directive for Combating Racism and Xenophobia (2007). I don't know the legal status of this 'directive', but those who still think of the EU as an economic project may be surprised at its wording: "Member States will ensure that these conducts are punishable by criminal penalties of a maximum of at least between 1 and 3 years of imprisonment."

Despite statements from Chris Huhne that European arrest warrants for Holocaust denial have been refused by the UK (19:10), and despite the self-important reassurances of Jack Straw — "as the Justice Minister, I promise you" (19:19) — Griffin was able to weasel out of the question: "the French courts and the German courts would not allow me that freedom" (19:37).

Dimbleby then asked: "have you actually changed your mind, or do you only say you've changed your mind because the law makes it illegal to be a Holocaust denier?" (19:52)

Griffin replied: "I have changed my mind. A lot of it is about figures ... one of the key things that makes me change my mind is British radio intercepts of German transmissions about the brutal mass murder of innocent Jews on the Eastern front." (19:59)

In one of his better contributions to the debate, Jack Straw responded: "What about Auschwitz? ... You didn't need a subsequent radio intercept to find out that people were gassed at Auschwitz!" (20:22)

Griffin's views on the Holocaust are as ridiculous as they are offensive, but by pushing these views underground, laws against Holocaust denial do more harm than good. Moreover, these laws are so woolly that they can be used to stifle legitimate debate (emphasis mine):
The text establishes that the following intentional conduct will be punishable in all EU Member States:
  • Publicly inciting to violence or hatred, even by dissemination or distribution of tracts, pictures or other material, directed against ... a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.

  • Publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivialising
    • crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes as defined in the Statute of the International Criminal Court (Articles 6, 7 and 8)...
    • crimes defined by the Tribunal of Nüremberg ... Member States may choose to punish only conduct which is either carried out in a manner likely to disturb public order or which is threatening, abusive or insulting.


At 14:33, Chris Huhne and David Dimbleby highlighted Griffin's address to the KKK on 22 April 2000, available here on YouTube:
Perhaps one day, once by being rather more subtle, we’ve got ourselves in a position where we control the British broadcasting media, then perhaps one day the British people might change their mind and say 'yes every last one must go'. Perhaps they will one day, but if you offer it out as your sole aim to start with you’re going to get absolutely nowhere. So instead of talking about 'racial purity' we talk about 'identity'.
Griffin maintained that this was an attempt to "win over the youngsters that [David Duke] otherwise leads astray" (16:03).

Dimbleby said what everyone was thinking: "Why should anybody trust what you say?" (16:08)

Griffin replied: "Why should anybody trust any politician?" (16:13)


Dimbleby read some quotes from Griffin on ethnicity:
  • "I want to see Britain become 99% genetically white, just as she was 11 years before I was born." (7:12)
  • "It's sad when a unique human genotype becomes extinct." (7:32)
The first of these is clearly racist, but I wonder what percentage of white Britons are truly comfortable with the idea that they may one day be an ethnic minority in "their own" country.

As for the second, Griffin is probably more concerned about particular phenotypes than he is about genotypes. As Richard Dawkins has noted, "if you wiped out sub-Saharan Africa you would lose the great majority of human genetic diversity, whereas you could wipe out everywhere except Africa and nothing much would change". But even if Griffin had said 'phenotype', it's hard to see why anyone should be upset by this. Some 'liberals' no doubt look forward to the day when miscegenation has rendered us all brown-eyed with light brown skin. But anyone who truly values diversity should dread that dreary homogeneity.

The muddled view of ethnicity held by the Question Time audience was revealed by the applause that followed the statement by one white woman that "the human race is largely believed to have started in Africa, so essentially all of us are an ethnic minority" (18:04). Unsurprisingly, the well-dressed black man from 6:15, who was sitting to her left, reacted to this suggestion with disgusted bemusement.

Later in the program, a black woman admonished Jack Straw for his use of the term "Afro-Carribean", insisting that the correct term is "African Carribean" (35:44). To my amazement, this too drew applause. Sayeeda Warsi, "Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion", smiled knowingly. Jack Straw raised his hand in apology. Nobody dared to ask the woman what she thought of other standard Latin-English combinations, like Anglo-American and Sino-Japanese.


Asked "Why is Islam a wicked and vicious faith?" (20:49), Griffin replied "because it treats women as second class citizens, because it says that a woman victim of rape should be stoned to death for adultery, and because it orders its followers to be harsh with those of the unbelievers who live near to them, and it ordains, as a religious duty, the murder of Jews, as well as other non-Muslims. That's in the Quran, there's no point shaking your head. There are good points about Islam ... but it doesn't fit in with the fundamental values of British society: free speech, democracy, and equal rights for women" (21:05)

I haven't read the Quran, but some quick searching turns up plenty of statements that would fall foul of the European Union Directive for Combating Racism and Xenophobia. Here are a couple of examples from Sura 4 - An-Nisa, courtesy of
(55) Lo! Those who disbelieve Our revelations, We shall expose them to the Fire. As often as their skins are consumed We shall exchange them for fresh skins that they may taste the torment. Lo! Allah is ever Mighty, Wise.

(88) They long that ye should disbelieve even as they disbelieve, that ye may be upon a level (with them). So choose not friends from them till they forsake their homes in the way of Allah; if they turn back (to enmity) then take them and kill them wherever ye find them, and choose no friend nor helper from among them.
But as shocking as this is, Griffin forgets, or ignores, the fact that the Old Testament contains similar passages. Even the New Testament has its share of abhorrent material. Nevertheless, the vast majority of British Christians, Jews, and Muslims function perfectly well in modern society, either because they are ignorant of their own holy texts, or because they believe large sections of them are inapplicable to our time and place. What matters is not what is written, but what people believe and act upon.

Over the centuries, countless atrocities have been committed in the name of Christianity. The 21st century continues to see barbarous acts committed in the name of Islam. Rape victims are stoned to death in Somalia. Drug trafficking, repeated drug use, and apostasy are punishable by beheading in Saudi Arabia. More moderate states, like Turkey and Indonesia, show that Muslim countries need not descend to such barbarism, but the the threat of extremism is ever present.

In Britain too, the threat of Islamic fundamentalism looms larger than that of Christian fundamentalism or Jewish fundamentalism. But blanket condemnation of Islam is sure to alienate moderate Muslims, who are potential allies in the fight against extremism. The sooner these moderate Muslims step up and become actual allies, the better.

This is not to say that Muslims are the only ones qualified to criticise the Quran. Whenever the commandments of any faith conflict with British values, we should not be afraid to condemn them. Religious beliefs should have no special status under the law; no special right to protection or respect. As H.L. Mencken put it
We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.


An audience member asked: "Can the recent success of the BNP be explained by the misguided immigration policy of our government?" (27:08)

Jack Straw's response (27:21) was about as evasive as they come. He blathered first about Enoch Powell, then about the National Front, and concluded with "I scarcely know anybody, certainly I'm not one of them, who can say they are 'true British' or 'true English'" (28:42).

Dimbleby pressed him: "Are you saying there is no worry about the scale of immigration in this country?" (28:51)

Straw then treated us to this: "There has been a net reduction in the increase in migration recently, though the outflow because of the downturn has been greater, and so we are seeking actively to control numbers better, so for example we've introduced the points based system for work permits, and asylum numbers have come down to about a third of where they were. But on the issue of 'Can we pull up the drawbridge and stop people coming into this country?', 'Can we stop people who come from a different country, who are then British citizens, from marrying who they wish to choose from wherever it is in the world?', certainly not, because one of the great strengths of this country is its diversity, and for the future, although of course I understand, I understand this very acutely in my own constituency, where now 30% of the population are of Asian origin, that it can be very disturbing for people, when they see change in front of their eyes ..." (29:02 - 30:00)

Staggering. If Dimbleby hadn't interrupted him at this point, I can't imagine how long he would have continued. Dimbleby finally succeeded in extracting something approaching an answer: "If you want to know why the BNP won in the North West and in Yorkshire in June, it was a lot to do with discontent with all the political parties" (30:32)

Sayeeda Warsi won applause for saying what everyone was thinking -- "that answer is not an honest answer" (30:48) -- but though she began by acknowledging that "there are real issues around poverty, around deprivation, around lack of social mobility and immigration" (31:10), she then descended to vague talk about 'resources': "There are many people who feel that the pace of change in their communities has been too fast, and that the government has not properly resourced those particular areas to respond to that change ... this is not a race debate, this is a debate about resources" (31:18 - 31:42).

The audience seemed hypnotised by her colloquial style, but Dimbleby was not, and he pressed her: "What precisely are you prepared to do?" (32:32). This elicited a slightly more satisfactory response: "We would have an annual cap, we would have an annual limit, we would look every year, we would speak to industry, we would look at our resources, we would look at our needs, but what we would not do ... is pull up the drawbridge, because Britain should have the brightest and the best from around the world, and we should welcome them, because they make a contribution to our society" (33:07 - 33:27). However, we were still left to wonder what 'resources' Warsi had in mind.

This should be a straightforward issue. Our crowded little island should not be admitting anyone but the "brightest and the best". We should welcome only those who "make a contribution to our society". If it were just the "brightest and the best" who were arriving, there would be no complaints ... not least because the "brightest and the best" do not tend to live in areas that have "real issues around poverty". We should question the ability of bureaucrats to divine who will make a contribution, and we should view with extreme scepticism any immigrants who require 'resources'.

Chris Huhne explained the 'shambolic' state of our immigration system: "Our border control no longer is able to count people out ... we issue nearly two million visas every year to students and other people on short term visas ... and we don't know whether they've left" (36:20).

Huhne also recalled the discrepancy between the government's stated expectations for Eastern European migrants ("56 000") and the actual number who arrived ("766 000"). He reminded us that "most of the other European countries decided to have transitional arrangements whereby they didn't allow free immigration from Eastern Europe" (37:25).

Griffin replied: "It is rather surprising to have a senior Lib-Dem masquerading it seems as an anti-immigration party" (38:44). He went on to blame "the entire political elite which has imposed an enormous multicultural program ... on the British people" (38:54) .

Mindful of Hanlon's Razor, I was sceptical, but Griffin is not alone in his suggestion that Labour's open door immigration policy was part of a deliberate attempt to change UK demographics. See, for example, Labour speech writer Andrew Neather's comments in the Evening Standard:

But the earlier drafts I saw also included a driving political purpose: that mass immigration was the way that the Government was going to make the UK truly multicultural.

I remember coming away from some discussions with the clear sense that the policy was intended - even if this wasn't its main purpose - to rub the Right's nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date. That seemed to me to be a manoeuvre too far.

Part by accident, part by design, the Government had created its longed-for immigration boom.

But ministers wouldn't talk about it. In part they probably realised the conservatism of their core voters: while ministers might have been passionately in favour of a more diverse society, it wasn't necessarily a debate they wanted to have in working men's clubs in Sheffield or Sunderland.

Jack Straw responded in the Evening Standard that this was "the reverse of the truth", but Migrationwatch has since used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain an early draft of Migration: An Economic and Social Analysis. Comparing it with the version published in 2001, they found support for Neather's claim: "six out of eight references to 'social' objectives" were removed from the Executive Summary.

The revelations prompted Lord Tebbit to ask whether this was "the most cynical act of vote-rigging in our history". As Migrationwatch noted,
Research into voting patterns was conducted for The Electoral Commission in May 2005, just after the last election. The “Black and Minority Ethnic Survey”, conducted by MORI, asked which party respondents had voted for in 2005. Of Caribbean and African voters, 80% had voted Labour, 2-3% Conservative and 5- 11% Liberal Democrat. Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshis voted 56%, 50% and 41% for Labour. The equivalent figures for the Conservatives were 11%, 11% and 9% while Liberal Democrats came in at 14%, 25% and 16%. Mixed and other categories were similar to the Asians.
Whatever their motives, it is clear that our government has misled the electorate, and dismissed their concerns. They should not be surprised that, out of desperation, erstwhile Labour supporters are now turning to the BNP.

The British People

Griffin said that the multi-cultural experiment had "transformed our country", and tried to quote some research from "demographers at Oxford University" about "the indigenous British". He was interrupted first by Bonnie Greer ("Nick, who are the British People?", 39:11), then by Jack Straw ("The Whites, the Whites", 39:22).

To this latter interruption Griffin should probably have replied 'yes', and continued with his point, but instead he made what for him was a laughable assertion: "skin colour's irrelevant" (39:25). Huhne then weighed in with "why are you against mixed marriages if skin colour is irrelevant?" (39:34), while Greer fought to get in another jab. At this point Dimbleby stepped in: "if you all attack on different fronts, we'll get nowhere" (39:40).

I don't know how genetically homogeneous and established a group has to be to qualify as aboriginal, but any talk of indigenous Britons seems to be met with hysterical animosity.

Griffin highlighted the double-standard: "Jack Straw wouldn't dare to go to New Zealand and say to a Māori 'what do you mean indigenous?' ... he wouldn't dare to go to North America and say to an American Red Indian ... 'what do you mean indigenous, we're all the same'" (39:47).

Fighting through further interruptions, Griffin continued: "the indigenous people of these islands [are] the English, the Scots, the Irish, and the Welsh ... the people who have been here overwhelmingly for the last 17 000 years ... we are the aborigines here ... the majority of the British people are descended from people who have lived here since time immemorial ... it is genuinely racist when you seek to deny the English ... you people wouldn't even let us have our name on the census form ... that is racism, and that is why people are voting for [the BNP]" (39:58).

This last comment drew applause from what seemed like more than the one or two BNP supporters in the audience. The story of the census is here.

It made me wonder. Do the Germans have 'German' on their census forms? Do the Spanish have 'Spanish'? Do governments have any business asking these questions?

It has been speculated that Griffin's "Oxford demographer" is Stephen Oppenheimer, author of The Origins of the British: A Genetic Detective Story. A review by The Bradshaw Foundation summarises Oppenheimer's thesis:
Orthodox history has long taught that the Romans found a uniformly Celtic population throughout the British Isles, but that the peoples of the English heartland fell victim to genocide by the Anglo-Saxon hordes during the fifth and sixth centuries.
In fact, three quarters of English people can trace an unbroken line of genetic descent through their parental genes from settlers arriving long before the introduction of farming.
Stephen Oppenheimer shows us, in his meticulous analysis, that there is in truth a deep genetic line dividing the English from the rest of the British people but that, fascinatingly, the roots of that separate identity go back not 1500 years but 6,000.The real story of the British peoples is one of extraordinary continuity and enduring lineage that has survived all onslaughts.
I don't pretend to know the truth of the matter, but the character of Straw, Huhne, and Warsi was shown by their response. They feel compelled to dismiss, even to ridicule, the possibility of English ethnicity. A better response would be to question its importance: the English may or may not be a recognisable ethnic group, but what does it matter? The important issue is British culture, which transcends ethnic boundaries.

The trouble for the mainstream parties is that they have bought into two dangerous myths: that ethnicity is important, and that all cultures are equal. The former leads to 'positive discrimination' for 'disadvantaged' groups. The latter makes them reluctant to condemn even the most oppressive and intolerant features of immigrant cultures.

Guided tours of the Lake District?

Of course, like the mainstream politicians, Griffin does believe that ethnicity is important. So rather than discussing British values, he followed his point about the census with a strange and unsupported suggestion that "guided tours in the Lake District have been cancelled because only English people, white people, were going on them" (40:43).

Chris Huhne called this a 'made up fact' and 'absolute nonsense', but subsequent investigation by Channel 4's Fact Check found that there was "a kernel of truth in Griffin's claim - the Lake District was (and is) trying to attract more visitors from minority groups, and 'white, middle-class, middle-aged' walking tours were briefly under threat".

So we find a valid point, poorly presented. Taxpayer's money shouldn't be used to attract anyone to the Lake District, and it certainly shouldn't be used differentially to attract members of one ethnic group over another. Private money, freely given, is an entirely separate matter, and businesses should be free to 'reach out' to any group they like. But when government engages in such activity, we should be very suspicious.


Dimbleby quoted Griffin as saying that "the immigration invasion is an act of deliberate, calculated genocide against our ancient race and nation" (41:18) and incredulously asked "so successive governments are committing genocide against their own people, is that your theory?". Griffin replied: "I'm afraid that's the case" (41:30).

Warsi asked Griffin "do you know the definition of 'genocide'?" (41:39)

Griffin attempted to reply with his interpretation of the United Nations definition of genocide ("it's about destroying a culture by not allowing children to learn their own culture, for example"), but was shouted down by Warsi: "How appalling that you use that word in that way" (41:48). In case you are more interested in facts than righteous indignation, here's the text:
Article II

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religions group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The definition is surprisingly broad, and only (a) and (c) fit with the common image of genocide (gas chambers and machetes; starvation and concentration camps). Clause (b) with its inclusion of 'mental harm' is especially surprising, and probably serves as the basis for Griffin's interpretation, however far-fetched; it would be interesting to see examples of what the authors intended.

I suspect that even if Griffin had firm evidence of (d) or (e), and could demonstrate that this was done with "intent to destroy, in whole or in part" the "indigenous British" or the English nation, Warsi and others would still condemn his use of the term 'genocide'.

To be sure, Griffin was cynically seeking to capitalise on the gulf between the common perception and the legal definition, but the UN text does highlight the possibility of 'bloodless genocide'. While it does seem ridiculous to suggest that genocide has occurred here in the UK, there is substantial evidence of a Culture War that has seen the suppression of English and British identities.


Talk moved back to immigration, with Warsi memorably insisting that "there is no such thing as a bogus asylum seeker" (45:14).

Dimbleby quoted Frank Field: "a fightback against the BNP will only begin when the party leaders give a full pledge that our population will not breach the 65 million barrier" (46:46).

Jack Straw replied that he doesn't "believe that putting a cap on population is possible" and disingenuously suggested that attempts to control the population would have to take the form of "a cap on the number of children that people have" (47:14).

In fact, since wealthy westerners freely choose to breed at less than the replacement rate, it would almost certainly be sufficient to curtail immigration, and remove incentives for welfare pregnancy — to encourage people to live within their means, and only have as many children as they can support.

Questioning the unquestionable

Nick Griffin may be shifty and unattractive; he may say things that are offensive, disingenuous, and ridiculous; but he gives voice to concerns that are felt by many.

Geert Wilders comes across quite differently, and does not seem to have the same skeletons in his closet, but he is on trial for the uncompromising manner in which he has questioned the influence of Islam in the Netherlands.

As long as the mainstream parties ignore popular concerns, people like Griffin will be guaranteed an audience. To the extent that the government is prepared to use the force of law to suppress politically incorrect beliefs, we should all be afraid.

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