Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The rise of the EDL

When it was formed in June last year no one knew for sure what kind of an impact the English Defence League (EDL) would have. Whilst some optimistically dismissed the group as a poorly organised bunch of football hooligans, others warned that it was the beginning of a far-right ‘street army’ that would, in time, ignite racial violence across the country. Meanwhile the more conspiracy-theory-friendly commentators suggested that the whole group could be a ‘honey-trap’ set up by the police and secret services to indentify and monitor fascists (similar to the theories that once surrounded Combat 18).

Almost a year on we have a somewhat clearer picture. Recent media coverage- including excellent documentaries by the
Guardian and BBC, have shone the light on an organisation that – though nowhere near as significant Mosley’s Blackshirts or the National Front once were- is large, organised and growing. The uncertainty now is at what point support for the EDL will hit its peak – but unfortunately this does not seem to be in the foreseeable future. Each major EDL demonstration attracts more people than the last and they increasingly result in violence directed towards counter-demonstrators or the police.

The worse may be to come. There are growing rumours that this summer the EDL plans to ‘hit’ Bradford and Tower Hamlets; areas home to two of the UK’s largest Muslim communities and both the scenes of previous race-related violence. Set against the backdrop of the World Cup and booze fuelled nationalism, the potential for more violence is worrying. It would be na├»ve and dangerous to predict full scale race riots but the worse-case scenario of clashes and civil unrest cannot be ignored.

So what can be done?

We should begin by looking at the EDL’s aims and origins. Its official goal is to protest against radical Islam in the UK; but the group was not formed in the wake of 9/11, the Bali bombings, the Madrid bombings or even the London bombings. Rather, it was formed following
protests by a group of Islamic extremists at a homecoming parade for soldiers in Luton during March 2009. A rational-minded person may ask why those now involved in the EDL did nothing when British citizens were killed by radical Islamists on the streets of the capital but were up in arms about the supposed dangers of Islam five years later when a handful of men shouted abuse at soldiers.

The key – quite possibly – is in the economy: in 2005 the UK was not in recession, in 2009 it was. This meant that the ground was fertile for the kind of old-fashioned scape-goating that has been directed at ‘foreigners’ in countries across the world ever since economic problems and immigration existed. Of course, our politicians only added fuel to the fire. Instead of recognising the historic link between recessions and racism, then trying to prevent this by drawing attention to the benefits that immigration and multiculturalism have brought to the UK, they did precisely the opposite. In a desperate bid for votes they said things like “British jobs for British workers” before trying to ‘out-tough’ each other on anti-immigration measures. Essentially they set the scene for the militant racists – who were always lurking in the background- to recruit angry and disaffected people across the country with ease. The recent BBC documentary Young British and Angry supports this theory: the EDL members featured made as many references to ‘immigrants’ and ‘unemployment’ as they did to ‘bombers’ and ‘terrorists’.

In many ways it is too late for the government to back-track in this area and considering the coalition’s borderline racist immigration policy (which does nothing to dispel the ridiculous myth that immigrants steal jobs) any sudden u-turn to promote the benefits of immigration looks unlikely. But individual politicians –along with other senior public figures and journalists- should be doing everything possible to try and weaken EDL support by shifting public opinion away from the anti-immigration sentiment upon which its leaders play.

The government should also be engaging with Muslim communities and encouraging senior figures from them to speak out against militant Islam in order to challenge the EDL’s emphasis on the radical Islamists who in reality speak for barely any British Muslims.

Finally – if the Bradford and Tower Hamlets protests go ahead, enormous effort must be made to ensure that policing prevents, not fuels, violence. Tactics such as
kettling and the kind of excessive force that resulted in the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 must be avoided at all costs. The race riots of the 80s were exacerbated by irresponsible policing, turning protestors from both sides against officers. That cannot be allowed happen again.

Back in 2009 a police superintendent predicted that the UK would face a
summer of rage. Thankfully that never came to pass- but this year the EDL may look to make it a reality. It’s not to late to stop them.

1 comment:

  1. Liam? Is this Liam of Hull? It's ShortPig here. I've been reading your blog with interest. You are quite a busy blogger aren't you!