THE BLOG
16/11/2018 08:46 GMT | Updated 16/11/2018 08:46 GMT

Protesting Steve Bannon Is Not About Free Speech, It's About Not Legitimising Racism

We might claim we want to expose the likes of Bannon in debate - but whatever happens, the far right will use the platform to raise support

PA Wire/PA Images

On the day Steve Bannon appeared on the platform at the European Public Service broadcasters event in Edinburgh, the Oxford Union quite rightly attracted controversy even within in its own institution, when it announced Bannon would be speaking today, Friday 16 November. 

It beggars belief that soon after 11 people were killed in an anti-Semitic attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, that racism and hatred is being given a platform. There is a link between hate crimes and racist overtones from politicians and journalists.

Recently we marked the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht (night of the broken glass) in Nazi Germany, which marked the start of the Holocaust, yet some of the supposedly brightest brains in the country cannot see the beginnings of the same hatred today.

The frequent claim by those that choose to give Bannon and other far right or fascist speakers a platform, is that they will challenge, pick holes and thus expose them in debate. However regardless of what is discussed, the far right will simply use the platform to claim legitimacy and support.

This is not about freedom speech. Freedom of speech is not curtailed if one does not speak at the Oxford Union or any other institution. Those that helped bring Donald Trump to power really cannot complain that they are somehow being silenced when their allies hold the most prestigious and powerful office in the world.

This is not about democracy. Many movements across the globe are getting votes and popular support but are not rewarded with prestigious platforms. In fact Bannon was an adviser to far right Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and the movement behind Bolsonaro organised a coup against elected president Dilma Rouseff and imprisoned Lula da Silva.

Bannon’s “movement” is also providing financial, political and organisational support to far right groups including fascists, in the run up to the 2019 European Parliament elections. If some of these organisations ever came to power the first thing they would do is abolish freedom of speech and elections. We need no lectures from such people on democracy and freedom.

This is about legitimising racism. Steve Bannon makes no attempt to hide or prettify racism. In fact he proclaimed at a far right rally in France earlier this year: “Let them call you racist…wear it as a badge of honour.” So it is particularly reprehensible, irresponsible and reckless for institutions to be giving Bannon a platform. That is why we protest against this.

At a time when economic growth is stagnating in the USA, Europe including in Britain the alt-right is cynically using racism to wrongly blame refugees, Muslims, Jews, EU citizens, African, Caribbean, Latino, Hispanic communities and any one deemed as the “other.”

Bannon is no working class champion. Bannon is a millionaire. He has no solution to economic problems that are hitting hard the 99 per cent.

Bannon’s platform is particularly dangerous as it comes at a time when Theresa May’s government is in a crisis on Brexit. In the summer Bannon met with Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Whenever Theresa May is replaced, it is likely that she will be replaced by those that wish to take Britain into a more Trump-like direction. The British people should decide on the future of its government, not the international alt-right or the Conservative Party.

Since the second world war, there has not been a more crucial moment to build a movement against racism. The time to act is now. Join us this Saturday 17 November at the Unity March Against Racism and Fascism.

Sabby Dhalu is co-convener of Stand up to Racism