By Stephen MacAvoy
The mobilisation of several thousand anti-fascists – including local Muslim and other faith communities, trade unionists, students, LGBT organisations and many others – in Tower Hamlets on 3 September landed a huge defeat on the EDL by preventing it from entering the borough.
For months, following a witch-hunting campaign against the East London Mosque and the associated London Muslim Centre in sections of the right-wing media, the EDL had claimed it would be marching into the “lion’s den” and into the “heart of the UK’s most militant Islamic area”.
The Home Secretary had banned the EDL’s proposed march following huge pressure – led principally by Mayor Lutfur Rahman, the independent Councillors on Tower Hamlets Council and organisations such as the Islamic Forum Europe (whose role on the day has been commended by the police). However a so-called “static demonstration” in the borough was not banned so the EDL still intended to go to Tower Hamlets.
In the traditions of other white supremacist movements, it sought to enter Tower Hamlets to threaten, intimidate and, as it has done in other cities, carry out violence against the Muslim community, its places of worships, businesses and community centres. There is no doubt at all of what would have happened if the EDL had been able to enter Tower Hamlets. Widely available footage (such as can be viewed here, here or here) of the violent nature of the EDL and its message of racist incitement shows the dangers it would have posed to the safety of the Muslim community had it entered Tower Hamlets. Such footage underlines the urgent priority that must be given by all anti-racists to solidarity with the Muslim community against the threat is faces from racists and fascists
That the EDL were prevented from entering Tower Hamlets marks a big defeat for it. It would have regarded any presence in the borough as a huge step forward as the EDL had tried and failed to enter Tower Hamlets twice previously. Any such victory would have emboldened the EDL as a movement. It would have used its victory as a recruitment sergeant and springboard to further intimidation and incitement.
That is why it was totally correct for the local communities and the wider anti-fascist movement to demand a ban on the EDL march. Without the ban hundreds of fascists would have been marching through Tower Hamlets targeting its Muslim community. The ban also contributed to reducing the mobilisation of the EDL on the day and strengthened the hand of those pressing the police to not allow the EDL “static demonstration” to enter the borough.
Those who argue that demands for bans should not be made on the state are wrong. Evidently, no illusions should be held that a state ban is sufficient action to stop fascists (especially one that still allows them a so-called “static demonstration” whereby fascists can still congregate in or near the very communities they are threatening) or that the state will respond adequately. Nevertheless, it is correct to call on the state to ban EDL marches in areas where this would lead at a minimum to incitement and intimidation. Likewise it is correct to call on the police and courts to take action against the perpetrators of racist violence, or to call on the BBC not to give airtime to Nick Griffin, or advocate student union support no platform policies for fascists.
Of course, the decision of the Home Secretary to ban all marches, including the anti-fascist march underlines the reactionary agenda, not only of the Tories but of wider forces, that seeks to claim there is equivalence between the EDL fascist thugs and the anti-fascist movement. Nevertheless, the principal objective for defenders of democracy on the day was to stop the far-right from entering Tower Hamlets, which the ban contributed to achieving.
The mobilisations of stewards by the Islamic Forum Europe and the anti-fascist counter-demonstration (organised by Unite Against Fascism and United East End) also played a part in preventing the EDL from entering Tower Hamlets. Whilst it is not necessarily the case the EDL would have marched into Tower Hamlets with out these mobilisations, the local community and anti-fascists presence on the streets provided reassurance and helped channel the local outrage at the presence of these racists into a peaceful counter protest. The principal credit for securing the police and government’s agreement to keep the EDL out of the borough must go to political coalition that was assembled by Tower Hamlet’s Mayor, Lutfur Rahman, and the anti-fascist movement.
Tower Hamlets illustrates why it is important for anti-fascists to mobilise against the EDL – both to defend the local community and to drive back the far right. Opposition to fascism’s rise is weakened by those who campaign against such anti-fascist activity. For the August 2010 EDL big mobilisation in Bradford, it was Searchlight that campaigned against the counter-demonstration. On this occasion in Tower Hamlets the Council Labour Group Leader urged people to stay at home and not attend the counter-demonstration. Fortunately this failed to prevent a major successful anti-fascist mobilisation.
The conduct of the anti-fascist campaign and protest on 3 September have imposed a defeat on the EDL’s latest attempt’s to incite hatred against the Muslim community in Tower Hamlets, with important lessons for the movement as a whole.