On Saturday April 4th the EDL came to Oxford City to protest over the Metropolitan Polices’ handling of supposedly ‘predominantly foreign’ child sex abuse and trafficking rings in Oxford. I went to see what I believe to be a small yet extreme part of British political history take place on my doorstep.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. Carnage on my local streets in the form of riot police, anti-fascism demonstrators and, most prominently a march by the English Defence League. For me however the true shocker was not walking into town and witnessing what looked like the outbreak of a zombie apocalypse (i.e. hundreds of heavily armoured Police vans swarming around the city) but in fact, the notion that the EDL would leave its regular patches such as Luton and Brighton, and come to a realm of civilisation, of thought, progression and intellect. To me there was honestly nothing more surprising than watching a crowd of around 150 racists march through the city that holds the oldest and most established university in the history of human kind. “What was so shocking?” you might ask. Well, to be frank, I have never seen such a genuine, organised and in particular, proud display of racism in my life.
Waiting on a street corner with fellow blogger Vint, with a barrier of police in front of us, the march went past us with a tremendous presence. My first thoughts, like many around me, were that the supposedly infamous and dangerous EDL resembled football hooligans, with beer, flags, and chants. However, these chants and flags carried different messages to those espoused by fans of Chelsea (just). The flags used phrases such as “stop rape Jihad”, “essex infidels” and “ban Halal”. The chants were a marvellous collection of catchy tunes ranging from the brutish “SCUM SCUM SCUM”, to the more refined “E-E-EDL” and the old classic “NO SURRENDER TO THE TALIBAN” (though I do think that one is a bit outdated as the Taliban now resemble one of those early 2000’s pop bands, who had a couple of big hits, reached peak fame in 2001-2005 and then fizzled out and went into reclusiveness.) One thing I noticed in particular was how genuinely happy they all looked as they marched in a very organised manner from the train station to the court house. They revelled in every passing threat, every tearful lefty, every baffled commuter. I have never seen such a concentrated sense of community outside of a football match, though this one is of course based around racial hatred. I was intrigued by a particular sign one man was sporting, which claimed that the EDL was not racist and not far right, a claim I find to be startling. Surely an organisation which is in opposition to multiculturalism, sets itself firmly against human rights (freedom of religion in particular) and claims that ‘all Muslims (all 1.1 billion of them) are terrorists’, possesses trademark traits of the far right. I could explore the EDL’s persistent denial of racism further, but the ‘not racist’ claim is so pervasive, I could write a whole different piece on it.
I decided that I wanted to gain some sort of insight into their side of things, so as to at least see some kind of reason and rationality behind their beliefs. In their defence, many UAF (Unite Against Fascism) members repeatedly stated that the EDL ‘should not be here’, a claim that I have to disagree with on democratic principles. The EDL do and should have a right to protest, as that is a fundamental human right. Do not think that I am condoning their actions – far from it, I just believe there is a different way to eradicate this form of racism than UAF would, and it is strangely the same way in which I believe religion (and especially extremism) should and will eventually be eradicated: educating people objectively and giving them the choice. Ignorance is the blight of the masses. It leads to homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny and many other kinds of social injustice caused by a lack of understanding or empathy.
Objectively speaking, I can see why these men and women joined the EDL. They are the ignorant, the racist, the disenfranchised members of society, with no direction and no empathy. Why not claim that foreigners are taking the jobs? That all mainstream politicians are the same. That all Muslims, in fact, all those unlike them (white), are to blame when one of the EDL’s beloved British soldiers is killed in the middle of Woolwich by extremists. You can understand why some would relish the idea of seeing another EDL member in the street and knowing you’re all but brothers, if you felt alone and abandoned by society. A sense of community is a basic and tribalistic human instinct, and so I can empathise.
Sadly on top of this it seems that their ignorance extends further, to a point at which it’s possible that they think that the are saving us from a genuine Islamic threat to impose Sharia law on the British government. Some members may think that they are good people, saving us from oppression, and that they’re the underdog – a claim which is only given legitimacy by calls to ban them. They think that they are representatives of the many, fighting to save Britain. Tommy Robinson (founder of the EDL) he stated in an interview that “the whole country’s thinking it” in reference to the banning Islam. Awkward, given that Tommy Robinson has since denounced his anti-Muslim beliefs.
But wait, am I reading too much into this? Am I taking too humanistic an approach to the reasoning behind the EDL? Do members of the EDL actually care about protecting the UK from a strange and unfounded threat that 1.1 billion Muslims want to impose Sharia Law on us? Perhaps they just have an irrational hatred of Muslims. Maybe they don’t like the vibe, the look, the sound, the culture. Perhaps they woke up on September 11th 2001, watched the news and felt terrified and angry, like most of the world. Yet unlike the rest of the world, instead of reacting by mourning the dead, they channelled their anger into a ridiculous fear of ‘the other.’ Perhaps they hate the fact that some Muslims in Britain today are not of solely British heritage. If this is the case then they have the right to have those feelings of dislike, but they must be aware that civilised society will think them hideously ignorant, and they must think of the cost. Mosques and Islamic community centres get firebombed. Worship gets protested over. Children and adults alike feel alienated and hated for no reason that they can perceive. As I stated earlier, the EDL need a crash course education in tolerance. It’s the same principle with homophobia, when people realise that these people that they fear so much are just normal members of society, with feelings and emotions, they learn to be tolerant. Whether the EDL believe it or not, barely any muslims are terrorists, and religious and racial intolerance on any level is never acceptable. The human cost of their political activity is severe, as they do contribute to growing levels of Islamophobia in the UK and that is a serious problem. They claim they want a Muslim and therefore Jihad-free society and that only then will the British feel safe and protected. But how can a society ever be peaceful, when it expresses hatred and fear of one seventh of the population of the Earth?
Shouting, chanting, rioting and drinking are not civilised or intelligent ways of dealing with extremism, nor is generalising as the EDL so often do, and neither is inciting hatred. I hope that the 150 members of the EDL that I saw on that day were the last of their kind. Like a swarm of parasites they were once huge in number, but now thanks to the pesticide that is equality and tolerance (which seems to be working) they now resemble a small bunch of powerless, white, middle aged, thuggish, angry football fans – raging, raging against the dying of the light.