By Chris Page
Recent events have thrust the ugly face of the European far right back into the mainstream view. Since it emerged that that Anders Breivik had links to the UK far right, particularly the English Defence League, mainstream debate has erupted on how we should now view and deal with the EDL and similar groups. For socialists, who have steadfastly taken to the streets against the EDL and BNP time and time again while the rest of the world obsessed over the spectre of radical Islam, such a debate is long overdue. However, my fear is that such a debate is inclined towards reactionary measures.
Take, for example, the suggestion that has recently been tabled, that we should consider banning the EDL or classing it as a terrorist organisation. On the one hand, there is something to be said for this approach. Banning this repulsive group would instantly prevent them from marching in our streets and attempting to spread their racist poison. It would supposedly mean that no more Muslims and activists would suffer violence at the hands of bigoted thugs (let us not forget the violent assaults carried out by EDL members); and it would, apparently, mean that the far right has lost another one of its teeth.
Having said all that, banning the EDL or classing it as a terrorist organisation is a very reactionary move akin to trying to put a sticking plaster over a gaping wound. Consider the implications – politicians, in a rush to be seen to have tough measures on the far right after Norway, instantly crack down on the movement: it is a ‘progressive’ move, but from the top down, rather than from the bottom up. The EDL might be banned, but this will NOT prevent its members and sympathisers for continuing in their actions – “Yes, we have been banned”, the EDL would react, “but if anything that proves our point. It proves that the mainstream is sympathetic to the radical Islam we have worked hard to fight; it proves that the left-wingers and the Marxists are the ones who pull the strings; it proves, in the end, that we are right.”
If not ban the EDL, then what? This brings up the wider question of how we kill a movement. The answer, I think, is very simple, and it most certainly does not come from the reactionary measures of Parliament. What is needed is to tackle the Islamaphobic, anti-immigrant cultural hegemony that seems to dominate much of life in the UK. The EDL and other far-right organisations leech off the fact that it is quasi-legitimate to view the idea of multiculturalism with a deep suspicion, and to easily characterise Muslims as the threatening Other figure, much in the same way as Jews were characterised by the Nazis. What is needed is a fundamental shift in the way in which people on the streets perceive these issues, and this is best accomplished through educating people. For example, around the time of the EDL demonstration in Cambridge, the Mosque held a fascinating and enlightening open day, which drew in many of the townsfolk and showed that Muslims are not the threatening Other, but a simply a different aspect of the Self, the Self we call “British”. Community education, organised autonomously against the anti-immigrant rhetoric of our government and right-wing press, will accomplish in the battle against fascism because it takes away the reason that they give us to fear.
How will this kill the EDL? The best analogy I can think of is the short-lived pro-austerity movement, focusing around Rally Against Debt, earlier this year. The event was hyped up in the media as the start of Britain’s own Tea Party movement. Its organiser, Toby Young (a man who, despite being against public spending, wants government money to set up his own school. Tosser) portrayed it as a reasonable and sober alternative to the ‘anarchy’ of the student demos and TUC march of 26th March. My initial thoughts were of the irony of a group called the TaxPayers Alliance – 90% of whose members probably don’t pay much tax – but my more pessimistic side speculated that this could be quite terrible for the anti-cuts movement. What if thousands turned out? What if it seemed to the world that the people of this country were not unified against savage cuts? What if it did start a UK Tea Party?
The result? Around 200 people turned up to listen to Nigel Farage waffle about bailouts and the EU. It was so pathetic that instead of celebrating the start of a UK Tea Party, it celebrated its abortion. A good summary of the events can be found here.
The “pro cuts” movement died because the people of this country didn’t want to join it. Granted, some of this would be to do with apathy, but also to do with scorn. People have seen through the rhetoric of “We’re all in this together” and have shouted back “No ifs, no buts, no public sector cuts!” and, most importantly, they voted with their feet. This brings me back to the EDL – imagine what it would be like if the EDL called a demo, and five balding overweight football hooligans turned up, slurped Strongbow dejectedly in the rain for a bit and then slunk away. Now imagine if this were the case on every EDL demo. The EDL would wither away and quickly as a sprung up, not because it was banned, but because the people, the great masses of this country, voted with their feet and said “We don’t want you here.” That, if anything, is a much more powerful symbol of a multicultural and united UK.