In October 2009 a series of rallies were called by the “English Defence League” in Leeds and their welsh associate, “Welsh Defence League”, in Swansea and Newport. The group first appeared in Luton in April and initially claimed that it was responding to a protest against British troops returning from Afghanistan organised by a fringe Muslim organisation, but its “Support our troops” demonstrations were used as an excuse to attack Muslims. On 24 May a mob of right wing thugs descended on Luton, terrorising Asian people and attacking Asian-owned businesses. A similar event occurred in Birmingham city centre on 4 July, when a group occupied part of the city centre and abused black and Asian people. On 8 August the EDL tried to march through Birmingham again but was driven away by a counter-protest called by Unite Against Fascism and other anti-racist groups.
The EDL consist of a variety of elements including established football hooligans, and anti Muslim groups such as "Stop Islamification of Europe". The EDL have denied that they are a racist organisation, and attempted to distance themselves from the fascist British National Party. On its protests however, supporters have been filmed making Nazi "sieg heil" salutes and shouting disgusting racist slogans. Whilst it would be wrong to label all those turning out on EDL protests as BNP members it is important to recognise what the EDL represent and why they need to be opposed.
Anti-Muslim prejudice has been a growing staple of media coverage and establishment politics since 9/11, and the subsequent invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq. Such rhetoric has been used extensively to demonise those Muslims who have protested British and US foreign policy, as well as tarnish non Muslim protesters as supporters of fanaticism and terrorism. The EDL represent the development of this Islamophobia from political rhetoric into a potentially dangerous street movement. As disillusion with establishment political parties continues, discredited by expenses scandals and out of touch with ordinary people, spaces are opening up for extreme right wing politics – politics that lay the blame for unemployment and recession at the hands of immigrants, asylum seekers etc; this is why the BNP are attempting to present themselves on the one hand as a “respectable” political party, all the better to reap the benefits. However at some point, they will need to develop a hard core street movement that can enforce their will on their opponents. BNP leader Nick Griffin acknowledged this when he made his infamous quote“[BNP voters backed] what they perceived to be a strong, disciplined organisation with the ability to back up its slogan ‘Defend Rights for Whites’ with well-directed boots and fists. When the crunch comes, power is the product of force and will, not of rational debate.” For this reason BNP activists have been quick to immerse themselves in the EDL and give it direction.
The second alarming development in October was the invitation to Griffin to appear on BBC’s Question Time. This marked an important breakthrough for the BNP, as it represented a break into the mainstream. On the programme Griffin was attacked for having shared a platform with leader of the American Ku Klux Klan…. now he can claim to have shared a platform with British cabinet minister Jack Straw...
Both these developments are a serious cause for concern, however there is also another story of the events in October. In Newport, in Swansea, in Leeds and outside the BBC studios, thousands of people, Black, White, Muslims, Jews, young and old, gay and straight, turned out to oppose racism and anti Muslim prejudice. They did so loudly, confidently, and effectively. On each occasion the forces of hate and despair were confronted, exposed, and routed (they failed to show in Newport), and in that process new alliances were made, common interests identified and unity forged.
My trade union, UCU, the Lecturers’ union, is amongst many others, affiliated to the Unite Against Fascism campaign which begins its founding statement with the quote below.
"The world is a dangerous place to live in; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."
Albert Einstein. Refugee to Britain from the Holocaust in Nazi Germany.
Eamonn Kelly, UCU member.