What to make of Tommy Robinson’s move to leave the English Defence League (EDL) this week?
The EDL, for those who haven’t been paying attention, are at the sharp end of Islamaphobia in this country. They organise street protests where their thugs descend on a town or city (it’s Bradford tomorrow) to intimidate ordinary people and spread a message that all Muslims are extremists and should leave Britain (or at least England).
I use the word thugs advisedly. A friend who was involved in keeping Leeds safe on their last visit explained that any EDL gathering involves complex negotiations between the rival football gangs. They’re not supporters, they just arrange their fights around football fixtures. The Leeds gang, I think they used to be called the Service Crew, would have to give permission to other gangs to come onto their patch to join the EDL demonstration without it ending in a fight.
Robinson (real name Stephen Lennon) has left the EDL in a blaze of publicity, but he didn’t distance himself from the EDL’s anti-Muslim message, or apologise for his actions over the last few years. Plenty of people have left far right organisations, it usually takes time, they don’t usually court publicity and they tend to be contrite. Lennon’s actions don’t ring true to me.
He appeared at the press conference with the Quilliam Foundation. They were set up a few years ago in another blaze of publicity to win people away from radical Islam. I’m afraid I struggle with them too. They seem too shiny – all PR and … well where’s the substance?
I hope they both prove me wrong. We need more people to turn their back on the dead-end ideas of hate.
Robinson / Lennon’s comments about how street protest just strengthen the other side put me in mind of the song Two Swords by The Beat:
When two swords slashing at each other
Only sharpen one another
And in the long run even he’s your brother
Said even though that ****’s a nazi (nazi)
Can I digress at this point, to tell you my biggest rock’n’roll claim-to-fame story? In the lead up the Leeds Rock Against Racism Carnival in 1981 we organised a collection at a gig by The Beat. A couple of us met Dave Wakeling and (I think) Ranking Roger to ask them to support the Carnival and announce our collection from the stage. They suggested we should make the announcement and do it just before they started their set.
A few hours later I found myself on stage in front of a packed University Refectory. I fully expected to be booed off stage by impatient fans, but when I said “I’m from Leeds Rock Against Racism” I got an enormous cheer. I can quite see why pop stardom is addictive. I left the stage having announced the collection and Dave Wakeling thanked me, saying it was the best introduction they’d ever had. We raised over £100.
Anyway, back to Two Swords. The only tricky moment in the conversation was when they asked us if we were anything to do with the Anti Nazi League, who they thought were counter-productive in dealing with the National Front. Not wanting to lose their support, we dodged the question. In fact Rock Against Racism and the Anti Nazi League were two halves of the same movement.
The thing about the Anti Nazi League is they understood that you must never leave the streets to the fascists – whether they are the National Front, the BNP or the EDL. In fact Hitler’s rise to power in Germany was won on the streets by his brown-shirted thugs. He didn’t win power in the elections, they just just sealed it. Don’t think it could happen again? Look at Greece where Golden Dawn have been doing the same thing – let’s hope they’ve been stopped in time.
Unite Against Fascism (the successors to the Anti Nazi League) is calling on people to support the We Are Bradford peaceful celebration of multiculturalism tomorrow. I intend to join them. Whether Robinson’s in town or not.
I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.
3 Replies to “South of the River – Tommy Robinson and Islamaphobia”
By saying you hope Golden Dawn have been stopped in time, I assume that you think that the arrest of 22 Golden Dawn politicians including its leader and 4 MP’s by the Greek State (and supported by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels) isn’t something to be concerned about but something to praised?
Golden Dawn is a vile movement. The way to oppose them is for the Greek left to organise against them. And yet many of the Greek and European left have cheered on these arrests like they’re a blow for democracy. What short memories. The last time the Greek state rounded up those whose political views it disagreed with was in 1974 when the military arrested leftists.
I always feel a little uneasy when people talk about UAF as if they are the only people with a right to demonstrate.
You talk about counter demonstration whenever groups like EDL want to express their opinions and march through the streets, and I feel that as well as the possibility of provoking violence (and the UAF have been guilty of this too), I think that you risk becoming the very thing that you claim to abhor.
If you stop the right of a group of like-minded people from marching, and expressing their dismay at something which is important to them, no matter how misguided they are, you have become the very fascist that you march against!
I see that UKIP are now a target of the UAF and can often be seen on tv denouncing them as racist. I think my good friends Amjad Bashir and Mujeeb Bhutto would have plenty to say on those accusations.
It seems that everyone who has a differing opinion to the ultra left wing establishment is automatically a target for this group, and immediately branded as racist. I have no affiliation with the EDL or sympathy for them, but I will gladly fight for their right to have an opinion, just as I will any other group of like minded people.
THAT is what a democracy is supposed to be about, NOT about stopping people from any group, race, religion or belief from expressing their opinion.
The problem with the EDL (and the SDL/WDL) is that they are proto-fascist street gangs, modelled on Mussolini’s Blackshirts and Hitler’s Brownshirts, with real fascists (BNP organisers etc) at their organisational core. Their political purpose is to harrass, intimidate and instill fear into members of black and minority ethnic populations – but also trades unionists, socialists, LGBT people, women and disabled people – and to give courage and confidence to those who wish to oppress, assault and even kill them.
The political purpose of their marches is not the defence of dissenting views, but the suppression of the freedom of speech, and to threaten the very existence, of minority groups and dissenting views in Britain. Wherever they march successfully and unopposed, we see an increase in Islamophobic attacks, because they give succour to the racists.That’s why the mass mobilisations against them are important: to give confidence and courage to members of BME communities and other groups, and to demoralise the fascists. It’s why it is also very important to say that loudly and clearly that the people at the core ARE Nazis, with a fascist project, that is against the interests of ordinary people – black or white, gay or straight, able-bodied or disabled – and only serves the interests of big business and the bosses who are trying to screw us all.
UAF’s strategy of mass mobilisation in opposition to their marches draws on historical precedents in Britain in the 1930s (think of the Battle of Cable St and indeed of the mass mobilisations against Moseley’s Blackshirts when they tried to march in Holbeck) and of the Anti-Nazi League in the 1970s and 80’s. Both of those meant that, despite the economic conditions of the time, fascism was never able to gain the kind of foothold that it did across much of the rest of Europe. Spain and Portugal both endured fascist dictatorships. It’s not just mass mobilisations though – it’s a consistent policy of identifying, speaking out and campaigning against racism( and Islamophobia as its current ‘cutting edge’) on the streets, in elections,and at work.
The success of that strategy can be seen when we compare Britain to much of the rest of Europe: not only Greece – think of France ( where 25% of voters support the Front Nationale) , Italy, or Hungary. Britain – despite the best efforts of the BNP – has not seen the kind of dramatic rise in support for extreme right-wing, Euro-fascist parties. Arguably it is the lead given by the ANL/UAF strategy, together with organisations like Searchlight and Hope Not Hate, that has split and demoralised the BNP as an electoral force and that has demoralised Tommy Robinson sufficiently for him to leave the organisation he founded. And good riddance to him!
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