Recent Race relations Articles
by Colin Ethelson
Some anti-fascists have claimed that we should be ‘cautiously optimistic’ about EDL leader Tommy Robinson’s and Co-leader Kevin Carroll’s leaving the organisation today. Some have greeted this as the defeat of the EDL. Forget Tommy’s whining about this being the most “most difficult day” of his life. It might just be his greatest victory.
For all their chants of ‘no surrender’ Nazis tend not to be particularly steadfast. It was recently reported that Europe’s most hard-line far-right leader, Nikos Michaloliakos of Golden Dawn, was in the past extremely quick to betray his fellow Nazis to police and prosecutors.
In 2010/2011 the EDL were a successful violent fascist street gang which terrorized non-whites and wreaked havoc on our streets. But they are no longer that political force .The last few EDL events hardly drew enough goons to fill even a smaller pub. The hopes of some of the EDL’s grief vultures to turn outrage Lee Rigby’s terrorist murder into a long term resurgence of violent street fascism have not materialised.
Even the tiny number of EDL supporters who remain are riven by infighting and ideological differences. Law enforcement too is starting to close in on the EDL: Robinson and Carol themselves are due to stand trial soon and one his their top EDL-colleagues is to hand himself to the police after a violent robbery.
Thus, by leaving the EDL Robinson is not really losing anything. In admitting that he can no longer restrain ‘extremist elements’ of the EDL, he is effectively conceding that he no longer held any real power as leader anyway. As he too seems to have realised, the EDL is finished as a political force; He stated “though street demonstrations have brought us to this point, they are no longer productive”.
On the other hand Robinson’s gains through todays manoeuvre are massive.
He effectively rewrites his own political history and that of the EDL before his exit. He can portray himself as a hero of conscience; A man who risked his political future to oppose outrageous politically Islamist extremists like Anjem Choudhury. A man who was unjustly misunderstood and maligned as far-right only because of the actions of small number of extremists in the EDL.
The empathy circus has already begun. Robinson whined to the media about how he was unjustly demonised. He and Kevin Carroll even told a press conference his heroic fairy tale; “We had fought for three and a half years to keep racists out of the EDL”.
Since when is a bunch of racists getting drunk and shouting “whose streets, our streets “ a critique of Islamism. Since when is addressing a known terrorist, racist and mafia group an act of keeping racism out? Or what about the speaker at that prominent 2010 EDL demo who said “We’re still waiting for the Muslims to make peace with each other? They eat each other alive, like the dogs that they are”.
A real exit from the far-right feels and looks different. Andreas Molau, Germany’s top far-right ideologue and the most significant ‘exiter’ in past years gradually progressed from the overtly Nazi NPD to slightly more moderate far-right organizations before eventually quitting the far-right, rather than staging a glamorous one day shock maneuver. In interviews Molau makes clear that he is ‘no victim’, that his hateful views were “wrong at heart” and he has serious questions to answer over his lack of empathy for victims of the Nazi regime. He does not hide behind far-fetched self-justifications.
The test of democracy and of the rule of law, both here and in Greece, is not how it treats the best of us but how it treats the worst.
That doesn’t mean we should be complacent. There are real threats to justice in Britain, such as cuts to legal aid. However the battle is clearly not yet lost here.
Meanwhile in Greece the authorities have moved to arrest members of the Neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, including its leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos and four other Golden Dawn MPs. They’ve been charged with belonging to a criminal organisation and it’s claimed that guns and ammunition were found in Michaloliakos’ home.
Recent posts by reservists belonging to elite Greek military units calling for a coup, the killing of a prominent leftist musician, sustained attacks on immigrants and left wing protesters, had all brought things to a point where the state seems to have felt obliged to act.
I feel obliged to say two things. Firstly that I believe in muscular democracy; in other words I do not believe that a democracy, in the name of democracy, should hand the means of its own destruction to non-democratic forces.
When Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared at one point that he saw democracy as a bus, you use it to get to your destination and then get off, he associated himself with autocrats everywhere who have exploited democracy from Hitler onwards.
The minimum qualification for seeking power democracy must be a commitment to surrender power democratically when citizens demand it. For that reason it’s hard to justify allowing Golden Dawn or any other anti-democratic group an electoral platform.
The other thing I would say is this; however odious Golden Dawn the party and its members may be they must get due process and a fair trial. It’s not so much a concern about creating martyrs. Most knuckle dragging far right thugs would fetishise a rotting dog’s carcass if it served their warped cause. Nope, it’s because the damage done to Greek democracy by further degrading its already damaged institutions would be almost as bad as letting Golden Dawn damage them.
There’s a passage in A Man For All Seasons, where Sir Thomas More is debating with his son-in-law Wiolliam Roper, that puts it better than I could.
Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.
Bang ‘em up, throw away the key and all that, but do it proper and do it so a better, more confident, more self respecting, more honest, more democratic Greece can come out of this.
this blog was originally posted here.
by James Mills
When I saw the video of the Selfridges shop assistant refusing to serve the EDL’s Tommy Robinson my heart rose.
Because whenever we hear about the labour market these days there is a dominant narrative that one should be happy with their lot. In essence, if you have a job, then count yourself lucky.
There is an element of truth to this when there are around two and half million people unemployed. But it means the ethics of the workplace are ignored and replaced with cold managerial speak. Workers are turned into drones, not workers. It is how we arrive at workplace poverty, zero hour contracts; and a Britain where the increase in the latter is viewed as success.
This young man could have just kept his head down and said nothing. But by his actions, he has displayed that no matter where one works you have a social responsibility.
I was a shop assistant too, for a well known, now bankrupt, off-license for around six years. The job was vital to me paying my rent and working my way through university. I could work up to 35-40 hours a week; and I know without that job I probably would not have graduated university. However, on several occasions I risked my job (and potentially my degree).
We were allowed to refuse customers who were drunk, violent, or if we obviously believed they were underage or supplying underage people. But on several occasions I refused to serve people for racist, sexist language and even bad manners. And I banned those customers until they apologised.
On one occasion someone threw their money on the counter when buying chewing gum, so I decided to throw the chewing gum and their change directly at them.
There are things more important than one’s personal ambitions and needs. This is an ethic that sadly is ignored when we talk about employment these days; and is seeping away from the workplace.
This week sees the launch of a new documentary, Nae Pasaran, recognising how 40 years ago shop floor workers at an aircraft engine repair factory in East Kilbride refused to work on plane engines of fascist dictator General Pinochet, after he seized power in a coup.
It is sadly something which seems unimaginable these days, until I saw that video.
Not only did these workers, like this shop assistant, refuse to supply their labour to the benefit of fascists, but they had an intrinsic knowledge that a workplace is not an inanimate location; it is somewhere from which we all have a responsibility to our work colleagues, but also to our communities.
Nae Pasan trailer
James Mills did the cross-party Save EMA campaign; and runs the Labour Diversity Fund campaign
The centre-right commentator Ed West, previously at the Telegraph, has written a book on diversity and immigration. I thought it would be useful to do an email interview and ask him about some of his assertions.
Sunny: Briefly, what is the main point you make in your new book?
That is the social costs of large-scale immigration tend to outweigh the benefits after a certain fairly early point, and that greater ethnic, religious and cultural diversity places a strain on society by reducing trust. This has a negative impact on all sorts of things, most of which are tend to be the historical property of the Left; in particular our willingness to share public goods with fellow citizens.
I think a lot of people on the Left agree with this to a certain extent, but because anti-racism is the most important tenet of their moral being they would rather an analysis that explained it away as something that can be countered, whether by government efforts of attempts to change hearts and minds. This is where I would disagree with them.
Sunny: Arguably, many other changes across British society in the last 30 years – de-industrialisation, mass unemployment, increased individualism and liberalism, higher geographical mobility, globalisation etc have reduced trust too. Where’s the evidence that immigration is behind it all?
Yes, all of those things cause lower trust (the decline of religion too is a massive factor). Anything that brings freedom will bring atomisation, they’re two sides of the same coin. In regards to diversity reducing trust, there have been a number of studies; the most widely quoted is Robert Putnam’s, but there are various others, by academics at MIT, Harvard and the Home Office. There are (a smaller) number of studies showing that it doesn’t make an impact, but social sciences will always bring these contradictory studies, and I think the weight of evidence is in favour of the former group. (But that may be just my own personal biases.)
Looking at it logically, it would be astonishing if greater ethnic, religious and other types of diversity didn’t reduce trust, considering that by its very nature religions developed to bind a group of people together. Ethnicity like religion is also formed by membership of a particular culture.
Sometimes this is not neccessarily a bad thing; the converse to the modern liberal society are clannish ones, where people are very closely bonded towards their own kin but very distrusting of outsiders. Ethnic groups developed as extended clans and in ancient slave-owning societies slaves from the same ethnic groups were kept apart because, even when the language barrier was overcome and a lingua franca was understood, they were believed to be too dangerously cohesive for the owners. Tests of prisoner’s dilemma today between members of the same and different ethnic groups consistently show this still to be true – people around the world are more likely to turn over some from a different group.
I’m not saying this will be the case with everyone. A great deal of our feelings of trust and neighbourliness are affected by things like wealth and also general fear levels (and liberals tend to have lower fear levels than conservatives, which is why they’re often nicer people). Wealthy and/or liberal people are less affected by the downsides of diversity, but because wealthy and liberal people tend to be more vocal and prominent in this debate as in many others it’s easy to forget that they are not the norm.
Sunny: Let’s assume there are lower levels of trust among Britons. Regardless of whether you believe if this was caused by immigrants, what do you suggest we do about it?
I think there is a wider question about social capital, the term popularised by Robert Putnam but a lot older, which was sort of ignored for a while but is now taken up a lot of people, like David Goodhart, David Willetts, Jonathan Haidt and (most recently) Jesse Norman with his book on Edmund Burke (and also the Blue Labour/Red Tory people). Goodhart describes himself as a post-liberal, which is a pretty good phrase, because it says that he’s accepted the social reforms of the 60s in terms of women’s and gay rights, and anti-racism, but there are different challenges now.
They come from different angles but the general idea is that liberal individualism has been taken too far and fails to take account that humans are social animals and don’t generally act or think like indviduals. Both the Left and Right have embraced this, in the latter case with a sort of market fundamentalism. We’re not rational, isolated individuals who calculate only our own best interests, we have families, friends, wider communities, fellow religous believers, compatriots whose interests we wish to look after (and should look after).
The Left has sort of fallen out love with many of these institutions – the family, church, country – because it seems them as oppressive or homophobic or racist, which they can be, but they’re also often not and provide means of support for the most vulnerable. Modern libertarians tend to dislike these institution because they hold back the individual but a society run along the lines of some of Ayn Rand’s disciples would be a living hell for the poor or those not blessed without specific talents. Unfortunately I think our chancellor is probably a disciple.
Haidt (a liberal) says the biggest failing of the modern Left is that it fails to see that many of its reforms reduce social capital, and that the victims tend to be poorer. I think people on the Left are in denial about the impact that the decline in traditional two-parent families has on the very poor, and will perform cartwheels to deny it (although the evidence is hard to fix on, because it’s hard to look at which way the causal arrow is going).
On the other hand conservatives are in denial about the money-orientated signals that the free-market gives out, and how it does (whatever the Blessed Margaret’s intention) make people more selfish; they’re also deluded if they think that the problem is people on benefits rather than low wages and the working poor, and the social catastrophe that is housing inflation. Tackling all those issues would probably help. And did I mention immigration?
Sunny: It seems to me that the other factors you mention have reduced social capital much more than immigration. So why focus on that? And other than restricting immigration, how would you increase social capital?
Personally I think that’s unlikely – the evidence seems to suggest that immigration and diversity are big factors in trust and societal well-being (which was strangely skirted over by the Spirit Level, although I dont doubt that trust and equality have a fair amount of interaction). But even if its not the biggest factor, even so – rather than asking why focus on that, I would ask why not? In what other area would you say we shouldnt even look at the downsides? If a pretty radical social change has downsides and on an intellectual level they’re ignored (which they were for a long time – on a non-intellectual level anti-immigration rhetoric has always been around but I would argue the tabloids have less influence than Radio 4), then you have to ask yourself why.
My personal interest was stoked by what I saw as intellectual cowardice, lots of people were unhappy about what was happening, many of the arguments in favour of immigration and diversity seem pretty tenuous, but no one wants to see themselves as morally tinged with racism, and once you get beyond the straightforward economic arguments then some sort of self-examination on that issue is unavoidable.
I think anyone on the Right who raises this as an issue is going to be accused of stirring things up for personal and political gain, but I think if you find it difficult to imagine that other people have sincerely held views different to yours, the only possible explanation can be malice. (Of course there are politicians and media people who will always try to inspire hatred for personal benefit, there’s no question of that, but lots of people have sincere beliefs and try to articulate them responsibly).
There’s also a sort of utopian side to the anti-racist movement that says any problems with a multi-racial society are caused by a lack of anti-racism measures, and people delibaretly stirring things up. I would just argue that by its very structure very diverse socities are more fragile and prone to discord and that’s why everyone since the Persians has had a system of multiculturalism in place to keep that in check.
You can buy Ed West’s book on Amazon: The Diversity Illusion – What We Got Wrong About Immigration & How to Set It Right – from Amazon.co.uk or other sites.
by Gerry Gable
Last night I was interviewed on Newsnight over the revelation that the Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg had been the guest speaker at the annual dinner of the far-right Traditional Britain Group in May.
I explained that I had forewarned the MP, explaining the nature of the group. Despite the TBG’s claim to be “perfectly normal conservatives”, in reality it gathers together far-right extremists including antisemites, racists, fascists, national socialists and members of the British National Party and the breakaway British Democratic Party.
You can read more about the TBG in our story here yesterday and articles from Searchlight referenced in it.
Among the TBG’s young fogies is a violent young man called Matt Tait who readers may recall was part of a gang of BNP thugs who beat up two Asian youngsters during the 2010 general election campaign in Barking, east London.
A few days before the TBG’s annual general meeting in London on 18 May, Searchlight had learned from two of its undercover team that Rees-Mogg had been invited to address the dinner the night before. I spent three days trying to speak to both Rees-Mogg and the chairman of the Conservative Party to warn them that accepting the invitation would be very damaging.
The day before the dinner Rees-Mogg phoned me and we had a polite discussion. I have been asked since whether I thought he was ill-informed or naïve. I firmly believe that he is one of the least naïve MPs in the Commons, but it would appear that other that what I told him, no one else he consulted was able to give him any hard information about the TBG. That is odd to say the least because in a book published in 2011, The Conservative Party and the Extreme Right 1945-75, Dr Mark Pitchford said the Conservative Party’s central office had a department to monitor such groups. They probably still do.
Rees-Mogg is very much a genuine traditional Tory and told me, after listening to my explanations about the people running the TBG, that he had given his word that he would speak at the dinner, and did not wish to break his promise and let them down at such short notice. I emphasised that I thought his presence would be used against his party and himself.
It appears that later that day he spoke to Gregory Lauder-Frost, the TBG’s vice-president, and told him he had spoken to me and was thinking of withdrawing. Lauder-Frost, a serial liar, used the “red” card, saying I was a communist, as was Searchlight, and was not a reliable source, so Rees-Mogg confirmed his attendance. Today’s Times reveals that he also spoke to Simon Heffer, the right-wing journalist and biographer of Enoch Powell, who has himself addressed the TBG.
Our sources told us that during the dinner Rees-Mogg realised all was not well politically so he confined his speech to traditional conservatism and said nothing that could be construed as support for the TBG and its more extreme views. The TBG itself said yesterday: “Only one person present asked about immigration levels etc and Mr Rees-Mogg gave an assimilationist response.”
That night and over the following days, people at the dinner engaged in animated phone and online discussions, many saying the invitation to Rees-Mogg was a bad decision. In the June-July issue of Searchlight we reported that he had spoken but many considered his speech was a let-down and he had not endorsed their extreme views.
The BBC Newsnight team yesterday wanted me to do an interview with both hands tied behind my back. I had given them everything we had written about the TBG, including profiles of many of its key figures, and informed them that we had never received even a hint of any legal action. Nevertheless the BBC would let me name anybody associated with the TBG.
It would have been more helpful if the BBC had shown some balance. This is perhaps part of the same trend in BBC current affairs that gave the criminal leader of the English Defence League the softest possible interview on Newsnight two years ago and more recently on the Today programme.
This was cross-posted from the Searchlight blog today, where there is a longer version.
by Adam Carter
“In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man,” said Enoch Powell in one of the most offensive parts of his 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. This deep-seated racist fear about a future in which the role of ‘the white man’ is diminished by black immigration has become a standard trope in the paranoid rhetoric of the extreme right.
It can be seen in full-length racist tracts such as Jean Raspail’s virulently anti-immigrant novel Camp of the Saints (1973) and British nazi godfather Colin Jordan’s novel Merrie England 2000 (1993), and it informed the speech by Dr Frank Ellis at the Traditional Britain Group (TBG) dinner celebrating the centenary of Enoch Powell in London on 16 June.
Ellis was addressing about 40 supporters of the TBG in the upmarket East of India gentlemen’s club in St James. A former lecturer in Russian and Slavonic studies at Leeds University, Ellis was suspended, and then took early retirement, following a furore over controversial comments he made linking race with IQ in 2006.
His inflammatory speech would not have been out of place in any fascist gathering of the past thirty years. It presented a bizarre conspiratorial view of history in which contemporary Britain is in the grip of “liberal totalitarianism” and “multiculturalism … has emerged as the threat to the integrity of nation states to replace communism”.
The “new totalitarians” (as in all the best conspiracy theories Ellis doesn’t identify who this shadowy group is) have, through insanely clever ideological manipulation, supposedly taken over all the main institutions in the UK including Parliament, the Church of England, the media, the police, the education system and the armed forces.
The consequences of this alarming conspiracy are that supposedly “millions of immigrants” or “aliens” are bringing “Third world problems” and criminality to the UK.
Ellis then embraces a dystopian vision where immigration and “race war” ruin the UK: “Mass immigration, legal or illegal, is the single biggest threat to this country and at the time of speaking it is slowly and relentlessly destroying us … The political caste in this country, people charged with the defence of our country’s interests and very existence, have exploited the cult of multiculturalism as a way to destroy this ancient creation called England.”
Despite its extremist sentiments – and this idea of a conspiracy using immigration to destroy Britain has always been a core part of fascist, not Conservative, rhetoric – thespeech was well received by the audience of young fogeys and elderly traditionalists and has since been posted on the TBG’s website.
As we reported in our May 2012 issue, the TBG was revived (by its own account) in 2007 with a younger leadership and has become an important meeting point where an older generation of experienced militants such as Gregory Lauder- Frost, Lord Sudelely, Sam Swerling, Adrian Davies and Stuart Millson mingle with a younger group of activists many of whom recently graduated from university and are using social media to spread the reactionary message.
Its new chairman Louis Welcomme, who works as a marketing executive for a company supplying recruitment software in Norwich, graduated from Newcastle University in 2009 and has been credited as the driving force behind the revitalisation of the group. He is helped by Liam Stokes, the TBG secretary, who lectures in game and wildlife management at the Lackham Campus of Wiltshire College and writes a monthly column for the Shooting Gazette.
TBG committee members include Henry Hopwood-Phillips based in London, who wrote a response on the TBG website to our original article and has also been writing regularly on the Tory Reform Group blog – despite the fact that the inclusive ‘one nation’ policies of that group are far removed from the reactionary anti-immigrant propaganda of the TBG – and Calum Heaton-Gent, a vice-chairman of Sheffield University Conservative society.
Searchlight can also reveal that one of the younger activists attending TBG events in the past is Matt Tait, a former British National Party council candidate and Bletchley organiser, who is also a prime mover in the New Right meetings, often reported in Searchlight, which regularly bring together racists, antisemites and Holocaust deniers.
Former BNP North East regional organiser Kevin Scott seems on friendly terms with Welcomme and posts regularly on the TBG Facebook page. TBG has announced a joint meeting with the Quarterly Review on the theme of “Another Country – Whatever Happened to Traditional Britain?” on 20 October in central London.
Quarterly Review is a conservative cultural magazine which has tried to rival The Salisbury Review as the leading exponent of thoughtful (although sometimes controversial) reactionary Conservatism. Quarterly Review is edited by Derek Turner, the former leader of the Irish nazi group, the Social Action Initiative, who once referred to himself as “your neighbourhood nazi”.
Turner was the editor of Right Now!, the most influential voice (1993-2006) on the racist fringe of the Conservative Party, which was singled out by Robin Cook, then Foreign Secretary, in 2000 in an attack on former Conservative leader William’s Hague’s inability to contain extremists in his own party.
The meeting is more evidence of TBG’s ambitions to develop from an occasional traditionalist talking shop into the de facto leading group on the right of the Conservative Party. Whether its older mentors maintain their interest and the younger activists can make the transition from student politics to achieve these ambitions remains to be seen.
This article was published by Searchlight magazine in the July 2012 issue. It is re-published here with permission
I am a child of the NHS, which celebrates its 65th birthday this week [Friday]. I took my first breath in an NHS hospital, like many millions of Britons. And, if it hadn’t been for the NHS, I wouldn’t have come to exist at all.
I was born British, in a Yorkshire hospital, in the spring of 1974. Thirty years earlier, my parents had been born some 4,000 miles apart. It was the NHS that brought them both to Britain.
When my dad was born in Baroda, India, not so far away from Mahatma Gandhi’s birthplace, he too was a British subject, for this was three years before Indian independence. Having become an Indian citizen before his fourth birthday, he has now come full circle and is British again.
After studying at medical school, and working for a summer as a doctor on the Indian Railways, he came over to England, 45 years ago, to work for the NHS. County Cork in Ireland was certainly not British by the time my mother was born there in the late-1940s. But she did not need, or have, a passport to take the ferry from Cork to Holyhead, with a one-way ticket, then a coach south to Portsmouth, to begin her training as a nurse.
Their two journeys, among millions of others, reflect part of the story of how the NHS reaches its 65th birthday having secured its status as Britain’s most cherished public institution. It ranks ahead of even the Army, the Monarchy and the Olympic team as a source of pride in being British, and the public selected its birthday as more popular than the Coronation as the 2013 anniversary that means most to people.
And there is also a clear public recognition that Britain’s most popular institution has depended upon immigration. ICM’s new polling for British Future found that most people agree that the NHS would not survive in its current form without foreign doctors and nurses, with only 20% opposition to that statement.
Despite broader public anxieties about immigration, its contribution in providing skills that the NHS needs is widely valued as being in our national interest. This makes the NHS a positive symbol of integration, as much as of integration. Those who came to this country from overseas have contributed to something which we all value and use.
It was one of the first workplaces in Britain to have a significant level of diversity (partly reflecting more widespread discrimination in jobs outside the public sector). So it also helped to forge some of the earliest mixed race relationships in post-war Britain, in the decades before that became an unexceptional norm.
When my parents met around 1970, most people said they would be worried if their children wanted to marry across ethnic lines. But whenever I bump into somebody West Indian-Irish or Indian-Scots, I find that there is a good chance that the NHS figures somewhere in the family story of how their parents met. ??
As a parent of young children myself, I cannot imagine not being able to rely on high quality care that is free at the point of use. Taking my five-year-old on the adventure of a short drive in the dark to see the “night doctor” out-of-hours sparked many questions from him – How did the doctor manage to stay awake, did they have to sleep in the morning – but it also provided me with the answer that all parents want to hear: he’ll be fine.
His generation of children of the NHS may well face some difficult decisions about this much-loved institution in their lifetime but, as it celebrates this milestone birthday, let’s reflect on how much it has contributed to modern British life.
by Dan Taylor
Though the EDL claim to have cancelled (EDL site) their intentionally inflammatory march to Woolwich this Saturday, unofficially their website is still inviting its 35,000 members to descend on south east London for a ‘walk of honour‘.
The callousness and hypocrisy of the EDL in attempting to politically profit out of the random murder of Lee Rigby is chilling, though not surprising. It’s to the credit of the Army and the local borough that they’ve warned the EDL away from hanging about in the area.
But the real problem of the EDL is both increasing violence unfolding against peaceful Muslim communities and the lack of challenge to its anti-Muslim rhetoric by mainstream politicians.
In the fortnight following the Woolwich killing, hate crimes against Muslims in London soared eightfold according to Scotland Yard (a figure no doubt higher given the mistrust of police in Muslim communities). With online abuse, firebombings, grisly murders and physical violence increasing against British Muslims, particularly women, the problem of Islamophobic terrorism is something no one can remain complacent about.
Despite this, why has no major politician visited the burnt-down remains of the al-Rahma Islamic centre in Muswell Hill, or the Aisha mosque in Walsall bombed last Saturday? Why has no politician tackled the chilling rise of anti-Muslim violence?
Because to do so would be to introduce the causes of Islamophobia: hopelessness, poverty and fear in former-working class communities across England, and across Europe.
There is nothing special about the EDL. Like the BNP and NF before them, they are the latest manifestation of an ugly minority of violent racists with a warped understanding of English history. But examining the causes of their support leads to real problems, such as decades-long unemployment, housing shortages, hunger, benefits cuts, closing community services, alienation from mainstream politics, police racism and violence, and a wider culture of Islamophobic fear since the US/UK ‘War on Terror’.
The fear, anger and hopelessness of its lived experience is very real in many former-working class communities. It requires a ‘Britishness’ myth, despite being primarily an English problem. As with UKIP, perhaps the more acceptable and ‘common sense’ face of xenophobic nationalism, these right-wing parties and their media outlets offer an easy, us-and-them narrative for atomised and distressed individuals to believe in.
Common characteristics of EDL’s ‘soft racism’ include a generic fear of outsiders, fear of injury to home and family, especially young females, and loss of identity and culture, a fear which leads to hatred. Such messages are broadcast on a daily basis throughout the tabloid press.
As the philosopher Spinoza once asked, ‘why do men fight for their servitude as if for their salvation?’ With the poor bearing the real cost of austerity, another message of hope, opportunity and popular social democracy is needed. To put the words of the EDL leader to a better end, if we fail to tackle the real causes of racism we risk ‘sleep-walking into oblivion’.
What does it mean to be so alienated from civil society that none of the democratic structures available offer an outlet to articulate your anger and frustration? This is explored in Radical: My Journey from Islamist Extremism to a Democratic Awakening by Maajid Nawaz, published in 2012.
It’s worth exploring this question now given the recent killing in Woolwich and the rise in prominence of the English Defence League. The idea that ‘home-grown’ men who have functional lives in the UK and, like the 7/7 bombers, reject the dominant ideology so vociferously that they turn to violent extremism worries many commentators.
Maajid Nawaz was born and raised in Essex. To an outside observer he may have seemed relatively integrated: he enjoyed popular culture, had girlfriends, went to college and had friends. But this only tells part of the story. Growing up he was subjected to systematic racial abuse and learnt to fend for himself and others. The sense of being an outsider and the subsequent feelings of displacement had begun early.
The alienation that Nawaz experiences are a driving force for him becoming radicalised, not dissimilar to the reasons people join far rights groups. In both instances, they feel the only viable option available to them is to join organisations that give them a sense of identity and purpose. The demonisation of the ‘other’ provides an outlet for their anger and frustration.
Maajid Nawaz was politicised at university, being recruited into Hizb ut-Tahrir (the Liberation Party). Using his charisma and rhetoric to recruit other students, he was seen as an early leader. There is a particularly brutal scene when an African student is stabbed to death by another young man who has become radicalised. The fact that Nawaaz and others are able to stay affiliated to such groups illustrates the level and intensity of the indoctrination.
While studying for his Arabic and law degree, he travelled around the UK and to Denmark and Pakistan. He used this as a ploy to set up new cells to recruit other men to the cause and spread an ideology of Islamic extremism. He is later arrested, imprisoned and tortured, and then put in solitary confinement in a Cairo jail reserved for political prisoners.
By the end of this journey he publicly renounces fundamentalist Islamist ideology. He later went on to establish the Quilliam Foundation with Ed Hussain.
Tony Blair has called this a “book for our times”, which “should be read by anyone who wants to understand how the extremism that stalks our world is created and how it can be overcome”. The Labour government was to strongly back the Quilliam Foundation. This explains much of why Nawaz is demonised by some sections of the Muslim community. To be praised by a Prime Minister whose foreign policy has stoked much of the animosity British Muslims may feel, does not lend the author with much credibility within some sections of the Muslim community (and beyond).
However, if Radical provides us with one useful message, it is that it gives us a narrative to understand how important it is to address the alienation that young men (in particular) are experiencing. Without actions to address this, they are more susceptible to join groups which give them a sense of purpose and identity.
But to treat this distinct from other forms of extremism takes away a valuable opportunity for an accurate analysis of the causes of these criminal acts. It also fetishizes Muslim extremists unhelpfully and lends itself to further stigmatising Muslims within the media. This is often followed by a rise of Islamaphobic hate crime which feeds into greater levels of alienation by those being victimised. And so the cycle goes on.
See updates at the end
News this week that Help for Heroes would reject donations by the English Defence League came as a big blow to the far-right group.
Its leader ‘Tommy Robinson’ was crestfallen. JustGiving.com also shut down his donations page after the media coverage.
A Help for Heroes spokesperson told reporters: ‘He’s the only one that’s come to our attention but tonight we’ll be doing a cross-count to make sure that anyone else that’s saying they’re EDL will not be allowed to fundraise for us.
But now Tommy Robinson is trying to get around the ban by having another EDL member do the fundraising in the EDL’s name.
It’s also likely that the money will go to the EDL’s own coffers rather than than of Help For Heroes, since the latter has rejected English Defence League money.
In a series of tweets, screenshots below, Tommy Robinson passes the baton on to ‘Sgt Glen Hughes’ – who is also an EDL supporter.
Hughes plans to fundraise with Tommy Robinson and solicit money… though it’s not clear where it will go to.
It’s not clear if Help For Heroes will accept money from the far-right group under a different name.
UPDATE: The Independent follows up our story, as the soldier and Tommy Robinson try and delete their tweets. Hah!
Due to the considerable amount of unwanted interest that my walk has drawn, I no longer intend to walk from Westminster to
— glen hughes (@glenhughes31) May 30, 2013
Woolwich but instead plan to walk elsewhere within the UK on Armed Forces Day.
— glen hughes (@glenhughes31) May 30, 2013
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