Opposing fascism and the English Defence League

By Frances Davis

This Saturday the fascist English Defence League (EDL) will be demonstrating yet again, this time in Dudley in the West Midlands, to whip up racist hatred against Muslims. (See leaflet for UAF protest)

This follows a series of similar mobilisations by the EDL in the recent period, in Harrow, Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester , Stoke upon Trent and most recently in Bolton. On every occasion the EDL has sought confrontation, often violent – a flavour of what fascism represents, and what will happen if they get even the tiniest foothold in any part of society.

As the Unite Against Fascism (UAF) has pointed out, despite its attempts to present itself as a legitimate expression of  so-called ‘English patriotism’ and making the ludicrous allegation there is a need to oppose ‘creeping Islamification’, the EDL is in fact a violent, street fighting fascist organisation. The majority of the EDL’s so-called demonstrations have resulted in physical attacks, most recently in Bolton , where its demonstration was followed by a stabbing allegedly involving the EDL.

The presence of this type of aggressive, violent mobilisations on our streets, openly whipping up racism and organising marches on Mosques and Muslim communities is a dangerous escalation of the threat posed by the rise in electoral support for the BNP.

The development the EDL presents is not just a threat to Muslim communities however. Its website and other material shows it is also profoundly anti-semitic, homophobic and generally racist. Its activities have been accompanied by a rise in threats and hate messages to active anti-fascists.

A clear response to the EDL is therefore needed that isolates it politically, exposes the racist and violent nature of its mobilisations and defends the Muslim community against its offensive, in particular in the run up the general election.

Their most provocative mobilisations – such as their violent thuggery outside Harrow Mosque on September 11th, seeking to blame all Muslims for terrorist attacks – have drawn very broad demonstrations in response, engaging anti-racists, trade unionists, faith groups and many others. This kind of broad response remains necessary.

The violent nature of the EDL has led to wide calls for such marches to be banned on the grounds that they whip up racist violence. For example, in the run up to the recent demonstration in Bolton the City Council and other local organisations called for the EDL demonstration to be banned. This call was amplified by a letter to the Home Secretary from a number of trade union general secretaries.

The demand for EDL mobilisations to be banned is correct and should be supported. The only way to ensure the safety of the whole community is to deny the EDL the opportunity to incite violence by stating clearly that such demonstrations are outside the bounds of legitimate political activity in Britain.

Campaigning for such a ban is not an alternative to organising the broadest possible political response to the EDL’s mobilisations and the BNP.

The only way to defeat the fascists is to build the broadest possible movement of all those who oppose the fascists  – which must centrally include the Muslim communities and all those demonised and victimised by these organisations.

This means the anti-fascist movement must confront racism and Islamophobia head on, and not pander to it one inch.

Of course, whilst the EDL attempt to provoke violence, the BNP attempts to legitimise itself as just another political party, aided by the media which increasingly gives it uncritical coverage and airtime.

But the EDL and the BNP are just two sides of the same coin – and despite the BNP’s denials there are clear links between them. Both are fascist organisations exploiting racism and prejudice especially against Muslims to build support for a violent, anti-democratic politics that would be turned against all ethnic minority communities, Jews, lesbians and gays, trade unionists and all anti-fascists were it to gain a foothold.

This is why it is vital that the Unite Against Fascism’s campaign against the EDL and the BNP and to defend all our communities and multi-cultural society is supported.

Underpinning all of this is the context of the economic crisis. The left’s response should be one which fully challenges racism, and gives no concessions to the arguments that there is some special case for white people, in terms of defending housing, jobs or services. In reality the entire working class is under threat from the proposed agenda of massive cuts in social spending and driving down wages and working conditions to boost profitability.

Rather than conceding to a divisive agenda, the labour movement should argue for a progressive economic policy, which defends the rights and living standards of working class as a whole, whatever its ethnicity or religion. This means opposing cuts and fighting for a programme of expanded investment to boost the economy and create resources for the benefit of all people. Anything else is simply a concession to racism and will only serve to encourage the BNP.

Discussion on addressing the concerns specifically of the `white working class’ will not convince one single person not to vote BNP. Only by mobilising the progressive majority and challenging racism, will it be possible to maximize the opposition to fascism.