Standing reality on its head: the BNP and Islamophobia

CSC BNP pamphletHarry’s Place contributor Edmund Standing, whose report The BNP and the Online Fascist Network was recently published by the right-wing anti-Muslim propaganda organisation the Centre for Social Cohesion (blandly characterised by Standing as “a non-partisan independent think-tank”), has offered us some more of his thoughts on the BNP in an article for eGov monitor.

Standing’s latest piece is characteristic exercise in political evasion and confusion. Adopting the diversionary tactic of throwing his opponents’ accusations back in their faces (rather as the BNP accuses its enemies of being racists and fascists) he claims that Sunny Hundal and other critics of his CSC pamphlet have demonstrated “a complete failure in understanding of the true nature of the BNP’s anti-Islam campaign”.

In fact almost everything Standing has written about the BNP has been designed to downplay the significance of the fascists’ turn towards inciting hatred against the Muslim community. Elsewhere he has dismissed this turn as “little more than a superficial political trick” and he now asserts, bizarrely, that “the reality is that Griffin and co don’t really care about Islam”.

Anyone who has followed the endless stream of anti-Islam propaganda on the BNP’s website will be left rubbing their eyes in disbelief. Is Standing asserting that the BNP leadership don’t actually hate Islam, but are simply pretending to do so, as a cunning political manoeuvre?

Trying to make sense of Standing’s argument, he seems to be saying that the BNP’s Islamophobia is a mere epiphenomenon of traditional colour-based racism and that anti-fascists should concentrate on resisting the latter. He writes: “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.”

It is of course true that the BNP’s hatred of Islam is inseparable from the fact that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are not white. But racist ideology is not based solely or even primarily on the physical characteristics of members of the victimised minority community. These days it is more often justified in cultural terms. When the BNP denounces Islam as “alien” to “Western values”, and rants on about the threat to European civilisation posed by a “barbaric desert religion”, this isn’t reducible to a hatred of Muslims because they are brown. The far right really does despise and fear Islamic beliefs and religious practices.

As for Standing’s assertion that Griffin is “may be an odious figure, but he’s not a complete idiot, and knows very well that Britain is not on the verge of turning into an Islamic State”, what Griffin has in fact argued (the quote is from a 2005 interview on the Think-Israel website) is this:

“We are deeply concerned about the mainly – though not exclusively – French elite project to morph the EU, Turkey and the Maghreb into ‘Eurabia’. Bat Ye’or is 100% right about this. If this now far-advanced scheme comes to fruition then it would in turn lead to the Islamification of the whole European continent. A generation ago the revival of the historic Islamic threat to Europe would have been unthinkable; now it is clearly destined to be the great issue and decision of our time. For us, the closely linked threats of mass Third World immigration and Islamification outweigh all other considerations.”

If we accept Standing’s analysis, the BNP leadership doesn’t believe a word of this. Griffin is stupid and bigoted enough to embrace paranoid fascist fantasies about Jewish control of the media (see his 1997 pamphlet Who are the Mindbenders?) but apparently he’s too intelligent to imagine that the “liberal elite” are complicit in a plan to facilitate the Muslim takeover of Europe. Indeed, according to Standing, Griffin has a far more sophisticated understanding of this issue than a mainstream right-wing commentator like Melanie Phillips, who clearly does hold the view that the Islamification of Britain is an imminent threat.

Standing goes on to say that the right-wing tabloid press, by giving disproportionate coverage to unrepresentative nutters like Anjem Choudary and his followers, has whipped up an atmosphere of anti-Muslim bigotry that provides favourable conditions for the growth of the BNP – which is true enough. But he omits to mention the role played by writers who claim to be liberals, leftists or progressives in promoting hostility towards the Muslim community and its representative organisations. Indeed, Standing himself is a good example of this. Thus his article concludes with the following passage:

“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.”

Leaving aside the question of who the unnamed “self-appointed Muslim community leaders” might be – perhaps this refers to the Muslim Council of Britain with its 500 affiliates and elected national committee and officers? – Standing might ask himself how he would react to someone explaining fascist antisemitism on the basis that it had been encouraged by “self-appointed Jewish leaders” posing “unreasonable lists of demands” about “how British society should change” in order to accommodate “the ‘rights’ of Jews”.

Standing would undoubtedly condemn the writer as an antisemite. And he would be right.

Update:  See also ENGAGE, 30 July 2009