I see that both the English Defence League (EDL) and their opponents in Unite Against Fascism (UAF) are in the news again after a bunch of EDL supporters turned up in Manchester today to stage a protest against Islamic extremism. Apparently, the UAF didn’t like it so staged a counter-demonstration. The short clip viewable here shows EDL placards saying ‘Patriotism is not racism’ and ‘No more mosques in England’, while crowds of UAF people shout “Nazi scum: off our streets!” Predictably, EDL supporters commenting on the web today saw the UAF counter-demo as an attempt to suppress free speech and called them ‘Unashamed Actual Fascists’, and suchlike.
Anyway, aware that the messages of the newly emerged EDL (which seems to have evolved from a group calling themselves Casuals United) and the Stop Islamification of Europe group (SIOE) have resonated with at least a few nice, respectable, secularist folk, I decided to take a closer look at what they and their opponents are about.
As a former card-carrying Communist who participated in demonstrations against the National Front in the late 1970s, the UAF might seem the natural choice for me. I certainly applaud anyone who stands up to be counted in opposition to the British National Party who, in spite of their protestations of respectability nowadays, remain inexorably racist, judging by their website.
However, a skim through the UAF website flags up a disappointing inability on this group’s part to distinguish between the BNP and others who are protesting about radical Islam. They are all fascists, as far as the UAF are concerned; they are all racist hooligans and bigots with “links to the BNP”. A recent demonstration in Harrow by SOIE is described on the UAF website as a protest by “racist bigots including the BNP-linked English Defence League”. In fact, the EDL made it clear on their website that the Harrow event was nothing to do with them. Furthermore, prior to the demo, the BNP National Organiser, Eddie Butler, announced that,
It will be a disciplinary offence for British National Party members to associate or participate in any event or activity organised by the English Defence League or hold membership of the English Defence League.
The reasons for this proscription are that the English Defence League, through its activities, brings nationalist and patriotic politics into disrepute. If the English Defence League is not instigated by and its activities are not encouraged by the state (which it quite possibly is), then the track record of this organisation shows that it is run by people who will only bring discredit and probable arrest for anyone who attends its events.
LMAO at the “encouraged by the state part”. I wonder if Butler thinks the moon landings were a hoax, that Princess Diana was deliberately murdered, etc., etc.
(Edited to add a link to this risible thread from a fascist forum revealing what BNP supporters really think of the EDL.)
For their part, the EDL leaders are trying very hard to send out a message that they are not racist. Their members’ forum, for example, carries this warning: The EDL will not tolerate any racist or Islamaphobic behaviour on this forum. We are against Islamic Extremists and all that they stand for, but do not want innocent Muslims being victimised or abused.
Of course, if you hold up placards in city centres saying ‘no more mosques’, this might just be interpreted as victimising innocent Muslims, especially those who don’t have a mosque to attend anywhere near them and would quite like one built.
Says the EDL National Organiser, Trevor Kelway:
Our message is very clear – Remove Islamic Fundamentalists from our streets, and Remove ALL practice of Shari’ah Law in England.
The EDL welcomes anyone, so they claim, as long as they share their opposition to Islamic fundamentalism.
‘Black & white unite,’ said one of their placards at their 8th August demo in Birmingham. ‘We hate Nazis as much as we hate Muslim extremists,’ said another. In this vid, a group of masked EDL supporters — including a couple of black guys — are shown burning a nazi flag. In the subsequent interview they defend their sinister head attire by comparing it to the burkha (a good point, I think but not articulated strongly enough by their spokesman) and they reiterate that they are not racist, they are simply against “Islamic extremism”.
Just what bits of the religious and cultural practices of Muslims might be acceptable to EDL members is not clear but I suspect the answer is none. While they shout for the removal of terrorists from our streets, it seems that all Muslims who dress the part and who identify as Muslims above all else are regarded with suspicion by EDL supporters and I think this conflation of issues is part of their image problem. They just not very convincing as anti-racists. A quote from its forum (actually posted on the SDL (Scottish) section) is fairly typical of the views expressed there:
Any right thinking person on this Planet can see that Fanatical muslims are whipping up hate against the rest of the world. they want to convert us or kill us. their teachings come from a book wrote in barbaric times. if the 50 million plus non muslims of this country do not stand up to these nutters soon those Barbaric times will return. the muslims will not try and live peacefully along side us once they have enough of them living here to fight us.
Of course, they’re not paranoid or anything. Their output and strategy of holding public demos with provocative placards appears to be a kneejerk reaction that can contribute plenty to the tensions caused by any rise in radical Islam in this country but nothing towards a workable solution to the problem. For all their protestations, the EDL come across as anti-Muslim, which is bad, as well as anti-Islamism, a position I hold myself.
As for the UAF, it seems to consider any opposition to alien religious and cultural practices to be racist and they apply the label to any group their Muslim supporters feel threatened by. And I think the same can probably be said for Searchlight, an organisation I’ve always respected but who this week emailed readers of its Hope not Hate blog, mobilising them to oppose the EDL demo in Manchester and calling them,
a violent group of anti-Islamic football hooligans who are hell bent on whipping up interfaith tension through violence and intimidation…In truth, this isn’t about religion. It’s about figures on the far right trying to create fear and tension within and between communities – and then capitalise on this division.
Scepticism makes a party pooper out of one. If I’d received that email when I was twenty, I would have swallowed it whole. “So it’s not about religion! It’s about dividing and ruling communities! Yes, yes, of course it is. If you say so it must be true!” And I’d be all fired up to get out on the streets and yell, “Nazi scum!” at them, buoyed up by the heady feeling of solidarity with my hundreds of unwashed comrades who stand beside me doing the same thing.
But nowadays, with a bullshit dectector that has spent more than 30 years in development, I can but ask: Where is the evidence? What does the sender of this email know that I don’t and how does he know it? We are not given this information, either in the email or in the webpage it links to. The only evidence I’ve seen on what the EDL might have been planning are emails sent by their National Organiser to people registered on their internet forum. Here’s an extract:
We have been informed that the UAF and their friends plan to disrupt our demonstration in whatever way they can (goes to form really!)
DO NOT REACT TO THEM.
It is their sole purpose to be, how do i put it, a pain in the Arse!
They will try to disrupt our 2 min silence for our Troops, our National anthem, everything. Let them. We are going to show the world that we are the peaceful protesters that we say we are on Sat, no exceptions. The Worlds media are going to be present, and i mean crews from New Zealand to America will be there. Do NOT react to any intimidation whatsoever, just act as if they are not even there.
Remember, we are a peaceful Protest community against the un-opposed rise of Radical Islam in our Country. We need to show the world what pack’s of animals we have to contend with just to speak up against this in our “Democratic” Country. The press are waiting to portray us as the animals, do not fall for the UAF’s provocative tactics, lets show the World the UAF for what they really are.
So, to all who want to say enough to the rise of Radical Islam in this Country, be in the above locations on time, or you will find yourselves forced to the other side of the fence, or away from the demo by the Police.
(Contrast this with a report by a member of the opposition on what happened from their perspective and spot the irony.)
At the time of writing, I haven’t seen any more videos of today’s demo but, according to this televised report from the Islam news channel about the Birmingham demo in August, the EDL supporters were relatively peaceful and civilized, in stark contrast to their opponents in the UAF, whose numbers were inflated by a couple of hundred of young Muslims and who behaved like Unhinged Aggressive Fuckwits. Some of them we see rampaging through the streets, while others are shown beating the crap out of some poor sod.
Such behaviour is not likely to be of concern to the UAF, whose purpose, according to their website is simply to alert “British society to the rising threat of the extreme right, in particular the British National Party (BNP), gaining an electoral foothold in this country”. A laudable aim, indeed, and I wish they’d stick to it but their response to the EDL indicates they are motivated less by a wish to defend human rights than by a wish to defend Islam in Britain from any perceived threat, real or imaginary. It’s the UAF’s culturally relativistic perspective and the inhumanity implied in it is that persuades this veteran anti-racist against giving the UAF the time of day.
I’m not naive, however, and although I currently feel able to defend the EDL’s stated objectives from the charges of racism and fascism, I’m not suggesting that none of the people who turn up to EDL demonstrations are racist or bigots or BNP voters — I bet loads are. I’ve seen some (questionable) evidence of one or two people who might be EDL supporters giving nazi salutes. The EDL’s National Organiser has friends on facebook who just happen to have identical names to people on the BNP membership list that was leaked in November 2008. Others adopt cunning pseudonyms like A.N Englishman and Wewantour Countryback.
Many others use their (presumably) real names and nail their ‘patriotism’ to the mast by sporting the St George’s flag for an avatar. Patriotism is big thing for the EDL website and I know patriotism isn’t racism — I’m quite patriotic myself and not racist at all. But when it’s an obsessive patriotism, when it’s the thing that you most want people to know about you, when you sport a frigging flag for your facebook avatar rather than a pic of yourself, your family or even your dog, it actually seems quite intimidating and divisive. Like the burkha. Really, the EDL reminds me of those Muslims who wave their religion like a flag in my face. The UAF and the EDL are two rival tribes, both locked into a confrontational mentality, which prevents them from playing nicely together and trying to engage with each other like sensible grown-ups.
Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire.
The quote comes from Winston Churchill’s ‘Finest Hour’ speech on the eve of the Battle of Britain, which has been chosen by the EDL as the soundrack of their promotional video on the front page of their website. The vid itself is of a series of photos of the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings and EDL demos.
I have great affection for and pride in this country and its people but I also feel a modicum of guilt and shame for its darker side — both historical and present day — and I would usually distance myself from displays of jingoism. It’s not England, as such, or “Christian civilisation” or “our own British life”, I want to defend but the liberal democratic traditions, secular culture and scientific worldview that are the legacy of the Enlightenment. For all I may defend them from the rantings of the wild-eyed trots of the lunatic fringe, I do see an ideological link between the EDL and the BNP and that link is not fascism but nationalism — something I also abhor. That’s why this patriot would steer clear of the EDL. That and the impression that a lot of them seem a bit thick.
Edited to add this video, which underlines my point.
I’ve had less time to look at SOIE but what I’ve seen so far is a group who decided it would be an excellent idea to commemorate 9/11 by staging some sort of pathetic protest outside a mosque near where I live. That’s right, a mosque — you know, one of those places where some of the ordinary, peaceful British citizens who happen to be Muslim go to worship their god? I mean, for crying out loud! What exactly was the point? I know the excuse was the — so far unconfirmed — rumour that the mosque is to be the location of a Sharia court (and I won’t be in the least surprised if this turns out to be true) but my question is really about what the protesters expected to achieve by such provocation?
In contrast to the EDL’s more confused message, the SIOE makes it crystal clear that all Muslims are the enemy. From its website,
SIOE, does not accept the notion of moderate Muslims. This makes SIOE different to all other anti-Islamist groups who only oppose Islamist “extremists”.
Well that’s just idiotic. Moderate muslims exist, whether or not SIOE accepts the notion of them. I number moderate Muslims amongst my friends and acquaintances. What’s more, although SIOE proclaim racism to be the lowest form of stupidity, on its website appears the following exortation:
If people are inclined towards the BNP, NF, EFP or any other political party who seem to do nothing other than ride on the backs of other organisations’ efforts, merely for their own publicity, or try to infiltrate groups that actually do something then please join these parties and motivate them to actively do something themselves. Just don’t tell those who are actually doing something their efforts are useless then spoil it for them by promoting these parties on videos of events organised by groups who have nothing to do with the BNP, NF or EFP etc.
So racism is the lowest form of stupidity but people should join established racist organisations and try to get them to “do something themselves”. OK, got it.
While I can understand and to some extent share the anger that draws people to groups like the EDL and the SIOE, I believe their provocative tactics and sloganeering will make them the unwitting recruiting sergeants of militant Islam and I hope secularists and freethinkers and anyone else who is horrified at atrocities committed by Muslims — be they acts of international terrorism or private so-called ‘honour killings’ of young women — and angered by the importation of backward, divisive and oppressive religious and cultural traditions, will steer well clear and lend their support instead to intelligent, progressive initiatives like the One Law for All Campaign against Sharia Law in Britain and the Council of ex-Muslims. You don’t have to be an ex-Muslim to join!
Finally, a date for your diaries:
Saturday 21 November 2009
Venue: North Carriage Drive, Hyde Park, London (Closest underground: Marble Arch)
“Show your opposition to Sharia Law and all religious based tribuanls….Demand one secular law and universal rights.” More here.
A demo motivated by concern for human rights not nationalism. Be there if you care about human rights…but, whatever side you’re on, leave the flags and inane slogans at home, please.