The BBC has invited Nick Griffen the leader of the BNP to take part on the panel of Question Time - its prime current affairs programme. Not surprisingly, this has sparked controversy amongst those who don't think that the BNP's suspect views should receive any airing whatsoever.
Like many, I also think that the BNP agenda is rather nasty and potentially dangerous. It harks back to prejudices that we hoped society was slowly growing out of. And, I am sure that the BNP followers would be happy to see the back of me and all my friends who follow a foreign faith.
However, I disagree with those who would deny the BNP or similar organisations from participating freely in the many different fora that supprts our overall democracy. It cannot be right for an open society to ban a group because of their ideology. Obviously, if their ideas are expressed or translated into actions that break the law, they deserve to be charged with illegal behaviour.
However, short of actual criminal behaviour, we don't have a definition of the level or sort of beliefs that we consider so bad that we can damn a person or group to be social pariahs. At least the legal limit of behaviour is set after considerable (we hope) parliamentary and legislative processes. If Nick Griffen or any other BNP member breaks the law, punish them, but if they can keep within it, no matter how close to the line they tread, we must allow them the full priveleges of our democratic society.
I don't think Nick Griffen would be so generous to others he disagrees with. But that's the point - we don't like his views because he is the opposite of inclusive. So it can't be right to stoop to his level and take action or exclude people just because we don't see eye to them - no matter how balatantly abhorent itheir attitude is. Rather, we have to confront it and diminish its affect through counter-argument.
The key aspect of the issue for me is that I don't want to live in a society that turns on people because of their belief. I want society to accept me, despite my outlandish contentions. If society spurns one group, it can easily turn on another - where's the end of it? It's not very palatable, but for the time being we'll have to live with the BNP and just try to counteract their insidious statements with good sense and a more positive message.