‘All you need is the evidence. Look at all the Muslims slitting people’s throats. Get them out – This is England’
When the members of the English Defence League indicated that they would be joining the yearly March for England demonstration in Brighton on Saint George’s day, I wish I could say that the majority of the citizens of Brighton were in uproar. But why would they be? Most people I spoke to in the week leading up to the march had no conception of who the EDL were. They had no idea that the English Defence League, an organisation with close ties to the BNP and supposedly targeting ‘militant Islam,’ are a deeply racist and islamophobic organisation rapidly gaining strength and confidence throughout Britain. They hadn’t heard about the gangs of EDL members who targeted a mosque in Harrow. Or the shops run by Asians in Dudley that pulled their shutters down on the day of the EDL demonstration. Or the slogans they shouted through the streets of Bolton – ‘If you build your fucking mosque, we’ll burn it down.’ ‘Pakis out.’ Yes they said ‘fucking mosques.’ Yes they said ‘Pakis.’ Let’s not censor it in the same way that national media consistently tones down messages of racism and replaces it with words that are somehow less of an affront to our sensibilities. We are witnessing a resurgence of racism throughout England that has manifested itself in the form of a street-fighting, violent and aggressive group of people who claim to be fighting against the terrible threat that Islam poses to our great Western civilisation. Let’s start talking about it with the brutal honesty and urgency that the situation commands and deserves.
‘Africa was better when it was made up of only white people’
The EDL are the only political group in the UK holding monthly demonstrations attracting people from all over the country. They claim to be ‘peacefully protesting against militant Islam,’ when in fact their track record shows them to be willing to launch indiscriminate verbal and physical attacks on any member of an ethnic minority. Their swastika tattoos and mock-Hitler salutes do nothing to reinforce their professed ‘peacefulness.’ With Britain’s multiculturalism coming under attack from a range of political and social groups, and a general election where all three major political parties are pledging a drastic tightening on immigration, there is a fertile breeding ground for far-right organisations such as this. The borders are being closed, and minority communities are being painted as either ethnically or religiously incompatible with the ‘Britishness’ within those borders. In a time when at least two-fifths of the British population believes that Islam, even in its mildest form, is a threat to Western civilisation, we have much to fear and even more to lose.
‘We’re not BNP and we’re not fascists’
The history of fascism has shown that the far-right ideology in question has generally taken a two-fold approach. They have legitimised themselves through the form of a political party (thank you BBC for giving Nick Griffin a national platform), and in tandem with their parliamentary approach, have formed a street-fighting and violent wing to incite hatred and fear amongst the people. The BNP has been careful to distance itself from the islamophobic violence of the EDL, and in turn, the EDL have denied any links to the British National Party. They are supposedly two separate organisations fighting different issues and targeting different communities. In reality, however, the two groups are joined by far more than a deeply racist ideology. Chris Renton, described as a ‘gold’ activist for the BNP, is also a core member of the EDL’s central organisation. Many EDL supporters have been captured on camera at demonstrations, and their photographs show them as bearing BNP insignia on their caps. The protests across Britain have been centrally and systematically co-ordinated to as to give the impression of a sweeping wave of a popular nationalist uprising. What better way for Nick Griffin to tell us that the people of Britain aren’t happy.
‘No more Mosques’
The march on Sunday in Brighton was, above all, scary. Scary not because of the numbers (they were outnumbered or at least had their numbers matched by the counter demonstration) or not even because they made every effort they could to intimidate us, circumvent police lines, and make racist statements such as the quotes above. Scary, first and foremost, because they came to Brighton, the UK’s perhaps most liberal city. Scary because their confidence is growing, and that they perhaps acted under the assumption that if they arrived in a town with a small Black and Asian population, the response would be minimal and tempered.
The response was strong and determined. Young local Muslim boys took the microphone and led the chants. Residents passing Victoria Gardens stopped and often joined the counter demonstration. People sang in celebration of unity, and shouted in anger at racism. Individuals came together from a range of ethnic, religious, and political backgrounds, united against a march that threatened the community that we live in. Maybe it was less scary and more inspiring. I’d like to think there will not be a next time. But in a time of political, economic and social unrest, I find it hard to believe it won’t happen again. But next time, maybe more of us will have heard about the atrocities of the far-right in Britain, the attacks on Muslim members of our society, and the rise of racism that is an attack on us all. And the counter demonstrations will be larger. And larger. And we will win.
‘We’re Black, White and Asian and we’re Jew. And we’re many many many more than you…’
‘Unemployment and inflation are not caused by immigration…’
‘We are all Muslims today’
‘Whose city? –Our City.’
Note: the first two quotes are statements made by EDL members at the demonstration in Brighton. The next two are slogans from their placards. The final four are chants from the Unite Against Fascism counter protest.