Britain meets Rwanda: the debate over free speech and its implications

Writing from London I am engaged in constant debates over British politics but memories of Rwanda are still fresh. This article gives me another opportunity to synthesise the two lives and explore an issue that is raging in both countries, albeit on different scales and with different implications, but with important lessons to consider.

Writing from London I am engaged in constant debates over British politics but memories of Rwanda are still fresh. This article gives me another opportunity to synthesise the two lives and explore an issue that is raging in both countries, albeit on different scales and with different implications, but with important lessons to consider.

Britain is grappling once again with the rise and popularisation of the extreme right, this time in the form of the British National Party.

I mentioned the party recently when looking at the issue of migrants leaving North Africa, in which the ever charming Nick Griffiths (leader of the party) proposed blowing-up migrants ships as a solution to the issue.

Added to this are a range of controversial policies, the most contentious based on race. The party has until recently only admitted ethnically white party members with policies of forced expulsion of non-whites.

It is therefore unsurprising that members were arrested in 2005 for inciting racial hatred and promoting Nazi ideology.

The party has however gleaned support amongst the politically-disillusioned and indeed racist sectors of society.

They won two seats recently in European elections and the result unfortunately is at least some plausible claims for democratic legitimacy.

This week the issue has resurfaced and London is the battleground. The BNP have been invited on a popular BBC politics show, Question time. Students, activists and even politicians are protesting at the decision whilst they are pitted against the advocates of free speech.

So what are the implications of the media’s acquiescence of the BNP and what does this have to do with Rwanda?
Well, Gordon Brown and ‘Unite against Fascism’ (a UK organisation) would argue that the BNP’s policies are offensive and intolerant and as such do not deserve a platform for their views.

The protesters, sharpening their knives, consider the only way to combat extremism is to fight and isolate it.

This is rejected by a number of commentators (me included) who could easily rally with protestors against the views of the BNP but believe that isolation will not destroy extremist thought, instead it would only feed and reinforce the logic and resentment of the party’s disillusioned supporters.

Unfettered free speech does have issues, but it is only genuine political debate that would highlight the destruction of the BNP’s policies.

The BNP threatens to open wounds in British society, cripple the British economy and foreign relations.

Support for the BNP does exist and it is the role of institutions such as the BBC to expose the party’s flaws rather than isolate its disillusioned supporters, the former being far more effective. 

Now, I’ll end by considering the relevance of Rwanda, although the parallels are no doubt obvious. Rwanda struggles with genocide ideology, a challenge that the government attacks with every policy at their disposal, but what are the opportunities of opening political debate?

As I have mentioned, the most effective way to challenge extremism is to expose it.

Rwanda’s achievements have not come from necessarily only silencing extremist institutions and figures, but also showing, through the government’s effective and progressive development policies, that cooperation has and will improve lives.

Rwanda should consider Britain’s predicament and decide what approach it will use.

Rwanda’s burgeoning development, coupled with responsible leadership, wouldn’t fail to highlight the failings of genocide ideology.

philiprushworth89@hotmail.com

The author lives in the United Kingdom and did volunteer work in Rwanda.

 

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