By Edmund Standing, Researcher, Centre for Social Cohesion
Recently, the Centre for Social Cohesion, a non-partisan independent think-tank, published a report which I authored, entitled 'The BNP and the Online Fascist Network'. The purpose of that report was simple.
The British National Party, under Nick Griffin, has worked very hard to create a wholly false image of itself as a mainstream, 'patriotic' nationalist party, that has left behind its links with neo-Nazism. That deception has met with considerable success. The truth is very different.
In the report, I demonstrated, through looking at BNP supporting blogs, forums, and YouTube accounts, as well as official party literature and material sold via its website, that the BNP has not changed in substance at all. Rather, it is a racist party, founded by neo-Nazis, with a racial ideology that continues to share much in common with neo-Nazism.
However, it is also a party that now has a number of elected councillors and two MEPs. A few years ago, no-one would have thought it possible that the BNP could ever enter the political mainstream. In this article I shall discuss how and why this has happened, and what needs to be done to combat it.
In 2000, BNP leader (and now MEP) Nick Griffin stood before an audience of American 'white nationalists' and proposed that while he had no intention of 'selling out' the BNP's principles, he now wanted to 'sell' the party. So, he stated, the BNP would now use 'salable' words such as 'freedom' and 'democracy', and replace discourse about 'racial purity' with talk of 'identity'. In recent years, particularly following the 7/7 terrorist atrocities, the BNP has sought to align itself with what is loosely termed the 'anti-jihad movement' and to shift its focus from attacking Jews and black people to opposing 'Islamification'.
This focus on Islam has been combined with an even more intense campaign against asylum seekers and the encouragement of white self-pity. Then, of course, there is the very real problem that many voters, especially from old Labour heartlands, are feeling increasingly alienated from the political process, which is seen to be the domain of an arrogant and self-serving liberal intelligensia wholly disconnected from the concerns of ordinary working people. So, for its European election campaign this year, a key BNP slogan was 'Punish the Pigs', with the party presenting itself as a bulwark against the arrogant and greedy politicians of the mainstream parties.
Griffin is a man who has rightly been described as a 'political chameleon' and under his guiding hand, the BNP has been developing in a similar manner. Looking at the kind of statements it gives to the media and its huge shift away from neo-Nazi racial discourse and towards nationalist populism and a 'little Englander' approach, the BNP appears, superficially, to have changed dramatically. Elsewhere, I have argued that this is entirely to be expected and that it actually illustrates something very positive about modern Britain: the BNP has had to change its rhetoric because the majority of white Britons are not racists and would be instantly turned off by a party attempting to 'sell' ideological racism and a policy of mass repatriation of all non-white citizens.
There are a number of factors involved in the rise of the BNP as an electoral force, and I do not think that a sudden conversion of large numbers of white Britons to hardline racist sentiment is one of them. The question of Islam is one factor. Recently, I have been accused by the usual suspects of not bothering to properly examine the BNP's anti-Islamic rhetoric because I don't take anti-Muslim bigotry seriously enough or don't really care about it. At worst, it has been implied that I am an anti-Muslim bigot myself or, to use the catchphrase, an 'Islamophobe'.
This approach indicates a complete failure in understanding of the true nature of the BNP's anti-Islam campaign, and the fact that writers who are supposedly anti-fascist should choose to attack a report aimed at exposing racism is disappointing to say the least. The reality is that Griffin and co don't really care about Islam. Griffin may be an odious figure, but he's not a complete idiot, and he knows very well that Britain is not on the verge of turning into an Islamic State.
Following his strategy for making the BNP electable, Griffin has tried to steer the party towards populist issues, picking up on fears and resentment among the electorate in an attempt to use such issues as a Trojan horse for his underlying racist agenda. The truth is that the BNP hates Muslims because they are predominantly brown skinned. In 'white nationalist' ideology, everything ultimately boils down to an obsession with race.
When it comes to Islam, the BNP hasn't exactly had to work hard to whip up anti-Muslim bigotry and paranoia about 'Islamification'. Looking at the scare stories on its website's news section, a large number of them are drawn straight from mainstream media sources, and the party is being greatly assisted by the grossly disproportionate coverage given in newspapers to the outrageous statements and provocations of Anjem Choudary and his motley crew of social misfits who go under a variety of names but are essentially Al-Muhajiroun. In hysterical report after report, a tiny minority of bin Ladenist fanatics and fantasists have been presented as a serious threat to our society.
The fact is, of course, that while Al-Muhajiroun is a dangerous group with many links to terrorism, it represents only the tiniest handful of Muslims in Britain, not that you would know that given the amount of time Choudary gets in the media. So, when the BNP claimed in its European election material that it would 'ensure that British troops are not abused on the streets of our cities by Muslims', it was in particular cynically appealing to the concerns of those who get the majority of their understanding of the world from reading simplistic and hyped up tabloid stories.
Likewise, when the British media regularly feature quotes from Choudary saying the 'Islamic flag' is going to fly above 10 Downing Street, the BNP's response that 'we aren’t prepared to stand back and watch as Britain drifts into being an Islamic republic' sounds perfectly reasonable.
It's not just a case of media scare stories, however. Another important factor that is undoubtedly greatly assisting the BNP in its promotion of anti-Muslim sentiment is the problem of largely self-appointed Muslim 'community leaders' and organisations and their very vocal and, to the majority of Britons, unreasonable lists of demands of how British society should change to accommodate what is presented as Islam and the 'rights' of Muslims.
In the final part of this two part series, Edmund explores how best the political establishment and society should combat BNP and show them up for exactly the racist, bigoted party it is.