Last December, recruitment posters for a pan-European nationalist group named ‘Generation Identity’ appeared across Glasgow Caledonian University. Bearing the declaration, “You are not alone. Patriots walk among you. Join the patriotic revolution”, the posters formed a clear attempt at appealing to the so-called ‘silent majority’. They may have been taken down soon afterwards, but their message (first articulated 100 years ago in Warren Harding’s Presidential campaign) remains worryingly relevant.
A browse through Generation Identity’s website reveals much of the group’s demands. The three primary objectives are stopping the ‘Islamisation of Europe’, opposing globalisation, and reversing ‘the Great Replacement’, a term used to describe the UK’s increasing multiculturalism. Their website paints a very different picture of the UK’s demographic compared to official statistics. ONS data reports that, in 2018, the Muslim population in the entirety of the UK is around 5.33%, far from Generation Identity’s claims. Furthermore, the organisation disconcertingly aligns themselves with nationalism. Although there is not much wrong with claiming that ‘love for one’s own country is completely healthy and natural’, there is something logically misshapen about their beliefs. It does not seem that members of Generation Identity love their country, but rather remain attached to an imperialistic fantasy of a bygone racially pure nation.
Although there is not much wrong with claiming that ‘love for one’s own country is completely healthy and natural’, there is something logically misshapen about their beliefs
In early December, Generation Identity held a protest in the University of Manchester proclaiming that “ethnomasochism is toxic.” There is something to be said about an ethnic identity that feels threatened when faced with the presence of other cultural identities. It seems that this represents an empty carcass of fear with blatant racism packaged as ‘ethnic identity’. On the contrary, a fully developed ethnic identity would be content with embracing the practice of cultural traditions and ceremonies, rather than participating in aggressive objections of other cultures. It is unclear whether Generation Identity would even be able to explain what an ‘English Identity’ actually encapsulates.
However, the most disturbing aspect of Generation Identity’s stance is their unwillingness to admit their hypocrisy. One of their pledges includes “aid on the ground” to promote regional redevelopment in Africa and end outward emigration. Far from solving Africa’s problems, though, a money hose would ignore the complex of geopolitical, economic, and social problems that has beset the continent mainly since the colonial era. And setting impossible objectives will just give them free reign to criticise the government when they are unable to fulfil them.
Simply put, the more actions taken to silence their opinions, the more the far-right can sell their message
Despite their outlandish claims, the removal of Generation Identity’s posters should raise a greater question about free speech on university campuses. Universities are often stereotyped as left-wing, and the rise of no-platforming has done little to dispel this. Indeed, there is a basic danger in rejecting outright ideas that we don’t agree with – as John Stuart Mill wrote over 150 years ago, “if [an opinion] is not fully, frequently, and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth.” In order to refine our beliefs and make them stronger to opposition, they need to be under constant challenge to uncover their faults and gaps. Of course, though, this will depend on whether the other side would be willing to engage in a civil conversation.
The question of where we draw the line between free speech and incitement will be contentious. However, it’s crucial that we understand the fundamental importance of criticism. Not only does it allow us to further discover the roots of our opinions and increase their depth, but it can lessen the attraction of extremism. Simply put, the more actions taken to silence their opinions, the more the far-right can sell their message.