Throughout most of history, I think it is safe to say, Britain has been the villain of the piece. The history I studied at school didn't really highlight this, it was just the industrial revolution and then World War 1 and World War 2 over and over again, until I eventually dropped the subject. The nastier parts of British history were intentionally excluded. Colonialism, the British Empire, the slave trade, piracy and the bloodbath that was the Crusades are all examples of our less than fine moments. For most of the world, for most of our history, we have been the bad guys. This is easy to see when you look at the sheer volume of countries whose national day is a celebration of our departure.
Then in the 1930s something worse than British imperialism cropped up: fascism.
World War One was the tragic fight of empire against empire, the failure of diplomacy and the horrendous and unnecessary loss of millions of lives. World War Two, however, was the hard but necessary fight to stop evil in its tracks. We used (and eventually lost) our empire and every resource at our disposal to stop fascism. Millions died to stop fascism. It was horrible but, in many way, it had to happen. Everybody who died to stop the most horrific movement in world history died a hero, a martyr to freedom.
In the 21st Century we have stopped fighting fascism and instead we allow fascists to promote their sick ideology on television, on radio and in the printed media.
You don't negotiate with fascists.
You don't debate with fascists.
You don't listen to fascists.
You stop fascists – whatever it takes.
Many insist on freedom of speech for all but such soft liberalism is not a valid response to fascism, rather it becomes a failure to act and potentially a failure to prevent atrocities. Individuals and groups may have the freedom to speak but they are not immune from the effects of what they say. If I were to walk down the streets of a black neighbourhood in Detroit, for example, calling everybody I met racial slur after racial slur I would probably be beaten up and, quite frankly, I would deserve it.
It is time to stop giving fascists a platform to speak from and time to start responding to bigoted hate speech with the ridicule, marginalisation and imprisonment it deserves. If we do not we risk seeing the lives that were lost in the fight against evil lost in vain and we dishonour the memory of their sacrifice by welcoming in the very ideology they fought to destroy with open arms.
The opportunity is there for Britain to be the good guys once more by standing at the front of the rising tide of hatred, both on our shores and abroad, and fighting the fight against the sickest brand of evil there is.