An interesting question popped up after I published Tuesday’s post on Neo-Nazis: did media report fairly on the incident at the Faculty of Philosophy. Fact of the matter is that media did not report both sides of the story. But the real question is, are there really two sides to this story? Why were the Boneheads not welcome members of the public at the roundtable discussion and why exactly should they not be allowed to express their views if we are to call ourselves a free society. And – last but not least – isn’t intolerance against them just proving their point, that they are just like the rest of us?
Ignoring this won’t make it go away (source)
To answer that, we should remind ourselves of the oft-forgot role of gatekeepers media are playing. Namely, that in the final analysis it is the media who shape the public opinion and provide a general sense of what is socially acceptable and what is not. Having said that, it should be noted that there are (in the words of Commandant Lassard) many many many instances where media fail miserably at this role.
We must also re-examine the functioning of a democracy. Specifically, a post-WWII European liberal democracy (as a political phenomenon, not as a political persuasion). Pengovsky likes to compare a democracy to a playing ground full of kids and only a couple of toys to fight over. Most kids will struggle to win the toys for themselves, others won’t play the game at all, other still will only sit in the corner and whine. But for as long as they will all remain within the playing ground (democracy) it is more or less OK. Sure, you can enforce stricter rules of the game, but that’s beside the point. The problem is, when a kid or a group of kids leaves the playing ground and – in order to win the toys (power) – starts throwing rocks at those within the playing ground. That kind of behaviour is not acceptable.
Turning to European democracies, it goes without saying that one of their basic postulates are anti-fascism and anti-nazism. These two ideologies brought so much suffering upon this continent that there is a general consensus established that both of them are inherently bad and completely unacceptable. Indeed, they are the very opposite of what post-WWII Europe, capitalist and socialist alike, stood and fought for.
Neo-nazism and its various offshots go against this fundamental consensus and therefore can not be regarded as legitimate paticipants in any discourse. Allowing them to participate would mean going against the very basics of a modern society. Some say that – ideologies aside – what happened at the Facutly of Philosophy was that a group of individuals was prevented from expressing their views and banned from the event in what was an act of intolerance and an attack on their freedom of speech. Had all things been equal, that would have been correct. However, things are not equal. The banned group has a clear superiority agenda and its appearance at the roundtable was a clear attempt at gaining legitimacy in what is technically known as “mainstream discourse”. In short, they wanted to be recognised as equal partners in a debate.
And that cannot be allowed. Even more: while one must always question what is right and what is wrong (if for nothing else, to reaffirm one’s set of values), one must also always look at the context (the bigger picture, if you will) of what is being said and done. And this is where media come in. While they often fail in that role, media are by definition equipped to put events in context and look at the bigger picture. With this power, which must be executed with great care and surgical precision, media decide what is a legitimate and acceptable position and what is not. Often this is not an easy or clear-cut task and that is why media seek and report “the other side of the story”.
But in this case seeking the other side of the story would mean giving neo-Nazis legitimacy they do not deserve and must not have. Because – as Uroš said in comments two days ago – making neo-Nazis part of the mainstream discourse means making other xenophobic political players perfectly acceptable.