Fresh from agreeing to allow blacks and Asians join his party, Nick Griffin is this week embracing a group of men who have funny names and speak foreign languages. Have his regular trips to Brussels and Strasbourg finally brought out the British National Party chief’s cosmopolitan side?
Of course they haven’t. Far from sampling the diversity of Europe, Griffin is to share a platform with some of the continent’s most narrow-minded politicians in Ghent today (Wednesday).
According to his Facebook fan page, Griffin is visiting the Belgian city to address a “student symposium”. Yet the poster for the event indicates there will be precious little of the academic chin-rubbing you’d normally expect at a meeting billed as such. The poster depicts a burqa-clad woman standing in front of a European flag studded with minaret spires.
This crass Islamophobia is typical of promotional material produced by the far-right party Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), whose de facto youth wing, the National Student Association (NSV), is organising the event. Like the BNP, the Vlaams Belang has had to amend its rulebook in recent years after its precursor, the Vlaams Blok, was banned for flouting anti-discrimination laws.
Frank Vanhecke, the Vlaams Belang leader who is also scheduled to speak in Ghent, is not as openly xenophobic as he used to be – he once denounced an Amsterdam mayor who named a square after Nelson Mandela as a “renegade towards his own people and race”. Yet he has no qualms about inciting hatred against Muslims. Women who wear a veil, he has said, have signed a contract for their deportation.
Another guest in Ghent will be Bruno Gollnisch, deputy-leader of the French National Front. Gollnisch has been helping the BNP finesse its electoral strategy, according to a story in the Daily Mirror. By turning to him for advice, Griffin evidently no longer appears as keen to emphasise that he is “not” an anti-Semite as he was during his Question Time appearance. In 2004, Gollnisch suggested that the Nazi gas chambers may be a myth.
Griffin is no “gravy train or career politician”, a message directed at his constituents in northwest England recently declared. How then does he explain his use of a budget that is supposed to be reserved for parliamentary researchers and secretarial help to pay his bodyguard? Or his use of the European Parliament chamber to score the most parochial points imaginable? During a debate on the Haiti earthquake in January, he argued that no humanitarian aid should be given to its victims because the disaster had happened “in somebody else’s backyard”. Griffin quoted the Bible to claim that EU governments only had duties to their own citizens. The central teaching of Christianity – “love your neighbour as yourself” – is conveniently omitted when fascists interpret scripture.
It would be comforting if Griffin and his ilk were confined to the political margins. But the truth is that “mainstream” parties and European institutions have happily stolen many of the extreme right’s clothes and invariably wear them with greater ease. For example, Griffin’s wish for boats carrying asylum-seekers to be sunk is not far removed from what Frontex, the EU’s border management agency, is already doing. Last summer this agency helped the Italian authorities force a vessel to land in Libya; in contravention to international law, the people on board it were not granted the possibility to apply for asylum. Frontex is also planning to use pilotless drones – the type of warplanes that have caused numerous civilian deaths in Palestine, Afghanistan and Pakistan – in future operations designed to prevent migrants entering Europe.
If there is one thing more nauseating than Nick Griffin himself, it is how “respectable” politicians pander to his agenda.