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The flaw in Nesrine Malik’s argument for denying far-right propagandists a platform (Liberals – stop speaking up for hate speech, 22 March) is her failure to address how else the mass of us who oppose those with such unacceptable views can turn voters away from supporting them if we do not engage with their facile and untenable arguments. Attempts over many years to ignore them and simply to excoriate them has led to the present dangerous situation. They must be taken on in debate at every opportunity. If those who believe in liberal values are not able to expose the dangerous consequences of the hatemongers’ arguments, then they ought not to be in politics.

The best current example is France. For over 30 years the mainstream parties tried to deal with the odious Front National by ignoring or attacking it. Over that whole period its vote steadily increased. But when its leader, Marine Le Pen, was taken on by Emmanuel Macron in televised presidential election debates, she visibly crumpled. It is no accident that today the Front National is in disarray, with a much-criticised change of name and a reduced status in the polls. The lesson should be urgently learned.

 It is as well to be wary of protagonists who describe their own view as the “correct one” when offering a critique of an alternative premise. Lenin’s writings are awash with “correct” admonishments of “incorrect” heresies, a tendency that lately seems to be creeping into wide-ranging liberal democratic discourse. Nesrine Malik similarly supposes her own view, in her castigation of well-meaning liberals, to be the correct one. She also misinterprets John Stuart Mill when she highlights his contention that a struggle always occurs between the competing demands of authority and liberty; that we cannot have the latter without the former. In this she fails to elaborate on Mill’s view of where authority should come from; apparently assuming its imposition from above. Read More …