Television Review

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YOU CAN'T TOUCH pitch and not be defiled; but, once in a while, it pays to get your hands dirty. As part of "Fear and Loathing", a short season of programmes about the far right in Europe, Nick Fraser embarked on a Journey to the Far Right (Sat BBC2). In Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Austria and even back home in Britain, he met people who think that the Holocaust was a historical "detail", that Hitler didn't really want to kill the Jews (which sounds like history's biggest and least convincing "Whoops-a-daisy"), that the purity of the "white race" is threatened by hordes of immigrants, who should all be repatriated (by force if necessary) - and so, grimly, on.

Horrifying stuff, which left Fraser duly shocked - as he encountered new variants of this unpleasant infection of the brain, he fanned himself limply with one hand, as if to say "I'm overpowered", or clutched his head in exasperation. You could see his point of view, but incredulity and disgust are not the best tools for an interviewer to rely on. What was needed here was somebody prepared to engage with fascism, at least to the extent of arguing with it, instead of dismissing it. If Fraser hoped to enlarge our understanding of what it takes to make a fascist, he should have been prepared to fake at least a minimal respect for their views - to dispute the facts, attack the logic, get a dialogue going. Instead, finding their views taken so lightly, the fascists tended, not surprisingly, to clam up or retreat into slogans about freedom of speech.

At times, Fraser's tactic did get results, as when the historian and Hitler apologist David Irving was irked into claiming that the only reasons the Jews go on about the Holocaust are, a) that they make billions of dollars out of it, and b) that it is the most interesting thing to have happened to them in the last 3,000 years. But having extracted this stunning claim from him, all Fraser could think to say was that it was "a cretinous remark". Well, yes; but stating the obvious is not a contribution to the debate. I would have liked to see Irving forced to defend his position, or needled into giving some explanation of how he got that way. But Fraser was too busy flaunting his liberalism, making his own decency and anxiety the subject of the film.

This is only partly a point about journalistic strategies; it's also an argument about the nature of fascism. The real horror of fascism is not that it is some extraordinary perversion of human nature, but that it springs from ordinary, widespread fears and prejudices; some really quite nice people have ended up marching to the "Horst Wessel Song". Fraser himself made a similar point towards the end of the film, but his earlier disdain seemed to argue otherwise.

I don't want to belittle Fraser's intentions: it takes a brave man to beard neo-Nazis in their dens, and he ended with some strong thoughts on the nature of democracy: "You can't just be a democrat by voting. Institutions aren't enough... You really have to like other people." But there was not enough wisdom to last nearly two hours. In the end, Journey to the Far Right made fascism seem boring; and that's a dangerous illusion.