Much debate of course surrounded the BBC’s decision to invite the leader of the BNP on to Question Time. The papers and news broadcasters were showcasing the different sides of the argument and though pressure mounted on the BBC they stuck to their guns and went ahead with their decision. In the end Mr Griffin’s performance was a complete disaster as he came off looking inarticulate and confirmed his bigoted nature. But the result for Muslims is not so straight forward and neither is it for other Britons who want this country to be the kind of place where there is a high standard of justice and fair play.
Yet the growing acceptability of people airing such generalisations about Islam – whether that be Nick Griffin or the Dutch MP Geert Wilders – means that the social discourse around Islam admits the demonization of Muslims and their faith as part of a consensus in a way that the “essential barbarity of black people” could not possibly be. What this means is that these discourses shape the way in which Muslims are imagined and the way in which Muslims feel they are imagined. This leads to a degree of psychological and cultural dissonance amongst Muslims making them feel detached and not embedded in British society. It heightens their sense of needing to create physical spaces that are their own and feeds the process by which Muslims adopt either hyper-assimilative tendencies or then exhibit exaggerated Muslim identities that often drive segregationist impulses. Discursive realities influence and shape the reality we carry in our heads and through which we imagine ourselves and others. If the discourse on Islam in Britain (and the West more generally) admits such prejudicial generalisations then what it does is create a climate in which bigotry slowly grows as, to paraphrase Alexander Tsesis, social consciousness is saturated with cultural meanings. What is more, bigotry entrenches itself in a culture over years and almost always by slowly extending the parameter of what can be publicly declared about a group. Indeed, the pathology of bigotry is not a systematic assault nor a full on attack but a slow procuring of disparate incidents of hate which over time become bolder because all the while the parameter of what can be publicly declared about a group and what cannot is stretched more and more