I wish Nick Griffin hadn't seemed quite so MAD
Don't misunderstand me. I think the policies of the BNP are appalling. But the Question Time programme did play into our comfortable assumptions that people with terrible ideas are recognisably monstrous -- when the truth is that some of those with the vilest views on earth can be charming dinner guests.
And it's that truth that politics needs to grapple with. Demonisation is easy, but it doesnt reach the complexity of the problem. (Look where the demonisation of Saddam Hussein got us.)
Part of the problem on Thursday night was the way the programme had been reformulated to consist in a series of personal attacks on Griffin himself. The husband remarked, after we had watched, that it felt as if Griffin had been in the stocks and the audience and other panellists had been pelting him with past its sell-by-date tomatoes. (Bonnie Greer was the only one who used a bit of cleverness and wit in the attack -- and I gave her full marks for that, even if not for what she said after the programme.)
Where, I wondered was that old-fashioned idea of loving the sinner while hating the sin (a nice formulation of Gandhi, St Augustine others)? The problem about Griffin is his ARGUMENTS, and it's those that need to be demolished, not his personal qualities, or lack of them. But sadly Griffin played into their hands, and came across as barking, if not repulsive.
The bigger problem here is how we understand Virtue and Evil. It suits the cheaper side of political debate and media hype to imagine that somehow all the virtues (or vices) come together, as a package: a good person will be good across the board, a bad one similarly bad. It's a view with a long pedigree (and Aristotle has got a lot to answer for), but it crudifies political culture, is almost always a gross oversimplification and it undermines our capacity to deal with racism, terrorism, discrimination or whatever.
I got into trouble some years for suggesting that the perpetrators of 9/11 were not "cowardly". I still think that is the case. What they did can be called cruel, criminal, despicable, murderous -- but I don't see how flying planes into a skyscraper counts as "cowardly". And I don't see how we effectively counter terrorism if we write terrorists off as cowards. That's one thing many of them are not.
The same goes the other way round. One of the most extraordinary things about the Question Time programme was the Winston Churchill theme. In order to wrest Churchill from the arms of Griffin (who had ludicrously suggested that if he were alive today Churchill would have been a member of the BNP -- who knows what party/parties that flipper would have joined?) panel and audience seemed to collude in the idea that one of Churchill's main aims in life had been to save the Jews from the gas chambers.
It would be very nice to think that Britain entered the World War II to stop the holocaust. But it is simply not true. And it is self-congratulatory nonsense to suggest that it is -- and nonense that in the end plays into the hands of BNP arguments.