Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)

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Wednesday, May 04, 2005
Should we ban the BNP? JEM writes:

Here's what Niemöller actually said, which was in fact a poem. In German, of course:

Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Kommunist.

Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Sozialdemokrat.

Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten,
habe ich nicht protestiert;
ich war ja kein Gewerkschafter.

Als sie die Juden holten,
habe ich nicht protestiert;
ich war ja kein Jude.

Als sie mich holten,
gab es keinen mehr, der protestierte.

Accurate translation:

As the Nazis took the Communists,
I stayed silent;
I was no Communist.

As they locked up the Social Democrats,
I stayed silent;
I was no Social Democrat.

As they took the trade unionists,
I made no protest;
I was no trade unionist.

As they took the Jews,
I made no protest;
I was no Jew.

As they took me,
there was no-one left to protest.

So Pete James is quite right about the order-- Communists first, Jews (second) last.

We were obliged to learn this poem, in German of course, during our school German classes. (They didn't bother teaching me French. Somehow, I have coped.)

When a few years ago I visited Am Grossen Wannsee 56, which is a rather fine looking lake-side villa (now a museum) in a beautiful leafy suburb on the S-Bahn just southwest of Berlin, it was truly difficult to believe that such a lovely place could be the birthplace of the Holocaust. But here in early 1942 was held the Wannsee Conference that established Jewish extermination to be the secret national policy of the Third Reich, under the auspices of Heydrich and the SS.

Two things echoed around my mind as I visited the rooms of that villa.

One was Arendts memorable phrase after the Eichmann trial, of the 'banality of evil'. Of course Eichmann had been present at the Wannsee Conference as Heydrich's SS sidekick.

And the other was Niemöller's poem.

Which brings us back to the National Front. In Germany today, the Nazi Party, Nazi organisations (starting with the SS but also many more) and Nazi insignia--swastikas, and so forth-- are prohibited under criminal law. Also banned can be other organizations that are deemed by the courts to be fronts for extremists of a fascist persuasion.

Has this been a bad thing? Although it impinges on freedom of speech, on balance I don't think so; certainly not in the particular circumstances of post war Germany. Is it still justified today? In the German context, I think so certainly.

So, would a similar prohibition be right for our own home-grown National Front?

On the face of it, absolutely not; it would play right into their hands, drives then underground setting up replacement organizations that are not banned, and in general provide them with the biggest recruitment opportunity they have ever had.

But suppose the NF grows anyway, to the point of becoming a serious threat to freedom and democracy? Ultimately, in that situation, there would be a choice between banning it (which again would play into their hands, but on a much greater and dangerous scale) or sitting back and allowing all we are supposed to hold dear be swept away. In other words, it would be far too late to ban them by that time.

So, should we bite the bullet now, after all?

My short answer has to be no, not just on the grounds (very probable grounds though they are) that banning them would help them recruit, nor even on the grounds that once the State had banned them it would, as Niemöller's poem suggests, be emboldened to ban UKIP and/or RESPECT, but on the grounds that everyone should have freedom of thought simply because they are human.

That said, there are obviously some infringements on freedom of thought that outrage me less than others. The ban on Nazi activity in Germany just after WWII - well, it was just going to happen, that's all, and is no more to be complained of than the fact that a man who has just fought off a lethal attack keeps a knee to the neck of his downed assailant. No way were the Allies going to allow their enemies to reorganize having just defeated them at such ruinous cost.