3 March 2020

South West London Humanists: Discussion on Far Right Terror

I love intelligent discussions on interesting subjects and that is why I try to get to the South West London Humanists (SWLH) monthly meetings.

This month we were really luck to get Simon Murdoch, from Hope Not Hate, talking about 'Hate in Britain: anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim bigotry and the Far Right threat' and were doubly lucky in that it coincided with their just published report State of Hate 2020.

I found the presentation before the talk fascinating. I had come across some of this before the breadth and depth of the information was exceptional. It is always good when a talker is fully on top of their subject like that.

My main takes from this part of the evening were:

Far Right organisations (BNP, NF, etc.) are in decline but the Far Right is still very able to get people out for demonstrations and protests. Some of this is built around "personalities" like Tommy Robinson and fuelled by social media.

The rhetoric and arguments of the Far Right have been mainstreamed by the Centre Right including major figures like Nigel Farage, Theres May ("Go home or face arrest") and Boris Johnson ("piccaninnies").

Conspiracy theories are a good way in for recruits; the report gives examples like a gunman who attacked a restaurant because he thought that it was being used by a child sex-trafficking ring led by Hillary Clinton. Conspiracy theorists tend to believe lots of strange things and from there it is a short step to blaming immigrants (or women) for all sorts of things.

There was far more to the talk than that (writing notes while listening is still a skill that I have not mastered) and the report is worth a read to get more details.

The following discussion was less good. There were a couple of people there who wanted to talk about Islamic terrorism despite that not being the subject of the meeting and a couple more who asked questions beyond the expertise of a researcher who contributed to a report - as he tried to explain more than one, the report outlines the current situation and it is up to other people to decide how to respond.

There were some good questions too, and I hope that mine was one of them! I was interested in the mechanisms of the mainstreaming of Far Right memes and mentioned the many appearances of Nigel Farage on BBC Question Time and the way that the programme had highlighted strongly racists comments by a NF Parliamentary Candidate on a recent show. I was pleased that the speaker agreed with me.

The disappointing discussion did not diminish from the presentation and I was glad to learn more about the subject and even gladder that organisations like Hope Not Hate are peering analytically into these dark places.

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