A few weeks ago, leafy Haddenham in Cambridgeshire was the unwitting host to a rally by Blood and Honour, a neo-Nazi group banned in several countries across Europe.
Under the guise of a charity fundraiser for veterans, a roomful of 400 Neo-Nazi skinheads saluted the ceilings and chanted “We want our country back”.
Unabashed swastika selfies and proudly erected Nazi posters made their political allegiances starkly clear.
Across Europe and beyond, the response to tackling such ideologies is to ban them.
Why not, the argument runs. They are a bunch of mindless madmen running riot with archaic, racist views.
Annual neo-Nazi Blood and Honour rally held in Cambridgeshire, got its licence by claiming it was 'charity' event | https://t.co/cVYL6MMb6A
— William Baldet (@WillBaldet) October 6, 2016
This is undoubtedly true. But Germany’s decision to outlaw them in 2000, Spain’s in 2011 and Russia’s in 2012 hasn’t facilitated the demise of Blood and Honour. As the Cambridgeshire gathering proved, they are very much alive.
While the automatic response may be for Britain to follow suit, the fact that the group (named after a Hitler Youth motto) ended up in the Home Counties is exactly why we shouldn’t.
The rally, currently under police investigation, is a profound example of why banning extremist groups – no matter how vile they are – does not ensure that they go away.
In fact, the majority in attendance travelled from the EU countries where they are banned to spread their hate elsewhere.
The displacement is due to the snowballing influence of European hate speech laws.
Drawn up in the wake of the Second World War, the incredibly expansive laws seek to smother “all conduct publicly inciting violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin”.
Yet, as Blood and Honour proves, hatred is virtually impossible to police, and banning cannot make such groups suddenly disappear.
Even the European Court of Human Rights acknowledged that the “identification of expressions that could be qualified as ‘hate speech’ is sometimes difficult”.
If anything, the current approach enables their racist beliefs to fester.
Police duped into believing a neo-Nazi rally was a charity event. Hundreds of fascists from across Europe attended: https://t.co/mK15OGfCXH
— Sally Chidzoy (@sallychidzoy) October 6, 2016
Banning groups such as Blood and Honour encourages the use of back-door methods – like fake fundraisers – when instead their backward ideologies should be put on a platform and ridiculed out of existence.
Society has adopted the false pretence that banning ideas we don’t like solves the problem of them existing in the first place – unfortunately, that’s just not the case.
In order to ensure that the prejudice, and bigotry of the past have no place in our society of the present, Britain needs to carve out a dialogue far more progressive than the muddled European policy for policing hate.
Hate speech, for good or ill, is free speech. Banning people you don’t agree with will not catalyse their demise; that can only be done with better speech than theirs.
Public debate and rigorous questioning is the tool needed to rip prejudiced ideologies up from the root.
Unless we do that, rather than brushing over them with a bureaucratic-ban that pretends they don’t exist, Cambridgeshire won’t be the last time.