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.