Writing at The Third Estate, Reuben R draws our attention to the fact that David Starkey, under fire over his disgraceful racist contribution to a Newsnight debate on the riots last week, is an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society.
Reuben asks whether the NSS will now sever its links with Starkey. Unlikely, I would say, given the past record of the organisation.
Over at Luna17, in a piece on “David Starkey, immigration and the ‘new atheism'”, Alex Snowdon quotes a characteristic anti-migrant rant by NSS president Terry Sanderson from 2009. It was indeed vile. According to Sanderson, “immigrants are importing their own brands of religion into Britain” which are “primitive, hysterical, fanatical and alien”. But this was not a one-off example of the NSS endorsing right-wing racist views.
Last year Sanderson rallied to the defence of Geert Wilders, whose virulently anti-Muslim, anti-migrant rhetoric inspired the Norwegian killer Anders Breivik. According to Sanderson, Wilders’ attack on Islam as a fascist ideology “harmed no-one (being offended is not the same as being harmed) and is shared by many”. The UKIP-supporting “comedian” Pat Condell is a member of the NSS and has been enthusiastically promoted by the organisation. Despite the fact that his YouTube videos have increasingly featured sickening (and baseless) diatribes against “immigrant rapists”, Condell was among the nominees for the NSS “Secularist of the Year” award, both this year and last.
Back in 2004, when the then Labour home secretary announced plans for a religious hatred law, the NSS website carried an article by Sanderson who reported approvingly:
There was rare unanimity among press pundits last week as they made clear their opposition to David Blunkett’s announcement that he intends to introduce a law banning incitement to religious hatred. The fears of the press commentators were clearly and passionately expressed. Will Cummins, in the Sunday Telegraph wrote:
“A society in which one cannot revile a religion and its members is one in which there are limits to the human spirit. The Islamic world was intellectually and economically wrecked by its decision to put religion beyond the reach of invective, which is simply an extreme form of debate. By so doing, it put science and art beyond the reach of experiment, too. Now, at the behest of Muslim foreigners who have forced themselves on us, New Labour wants to import the same catastrophe into our own society”.
So the NSS’s record of sympathy for anti-migrant racism goes back many years. If members of the NSS are prepared to condone the views of Terry Sanderson, Geert Wilders, Pat Condell and Will Cummins, it seems improbable that they will take exception to David Starkey expressing the opinion that criminality is caused by black culture and Enoch Powell was right.
Update: See the discussion in the NSS newsletter of 19 August, where Terry Sanderson opines: “There may be circumstances when an honorary associate might be drummed off the list – but voicing a well-intentioned but off-beat opinion in an important debate should not be one of them” (emphasis added).