Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The UAF and the Far-Right: Is it really so black and white?

2009, which seems like so long ago now, was without a doubt one of the most successful years in recent times for the British far-right. Alongside the British National Party's Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons being elected to European Parliament, the former's appearance on Question Time, and the ensuing furore which only served to further publicise the party's cause, the English Defence League, formed in response to a protest by Islamic radicals against British troops returning from Afghanistan in March 2009, made the headlines throughout the year, when their marches were hyped up as the coming of the Fourth Reich, and led to unrest, near-riots and high policing costs.

The EDL, as a single-issue protest group, is a much smaller and nimbler body than the British National Party, so while the BNP has been besieged by infighting, continuous gaffes and legal action over their constitution since their “glory days” of 2009, the EDL remained largely unaffected in 2010, and appears to be making headway now in 2011.

The EDL professes to being a peaceful group who stands against radical Islam and terrorism. So far it sounds noble. Fair enough, one may say. However, having witnessed their rallies in Birmingham and Nottingham, you see the reality of it. They’re definitely intimidating - a large gathering of angry men, drunkenly shouting semi-coherent football chants and racist slogans (caring little whether it's Muslims they're insulting or Sikhs, Hindus, Poles or any other "foreigners") doesn’t exactly evoke the idea of calm rational debate. You wonder how many of its attenders are genuinely there to protest against Islamism, and how many just fancy the idea of getting drunk in the daytime with a large group of like-minded lads, where they can be as boisterous as they like - racism and xenophobia included - and they can pass it off as “being patriotic” and “making a stand”. They also get to wind up a load of middle class people, who fall for it every single time.

Which brings me to Unite Against Fascism. At front-line level, the main demographic appears to be mostly wealthy, middle class, intellectually arrogant people, many of them university students, who make no distinction between the words “fascist”, “racist” and “Nazi”, and band them around as if they meant the same thing. Their hearts may be in the right place but their heads certainly aren’t.

The majority of them have never properly suffered as a consequence of UK government, European Union or general free-market policies (though this is changing with the impending increase of tuition fees), and thus cannot empathise with any working-class people whose entire community has lost its livelihood as a result of a big employer moving overseas, or because their manager’s decided to hire people of overseas origin who will willingly do the same job for lower pay, sometimes even below minimum wage (really, the ones who are to blame aren't the migrants, who, like everyone else, is out to provide for themselves and their families - the managers and politicians, who put profit above ethics, are). Not that I’m justifying anger towards immigrants, but at least I’m trying to understand why and how people are led to support the likes of the EDL or BNP (those who aren’t drawn in by the beer, bawling and beatings).

The UAF, meanwhile, simply dismisses them all as “thugs” and “bigots”, as well as the three aforementioned superlatives, and at demonstrations, those on its side are encouraged to scream: “Nazi scum off our streets!” and: “Smash the BNP/EDL!”. Don’t words such as “smash”, “scum” and “Nazi” legitimise hatred and aggression? Somehow I doubt Aung San Suu Kyi would use such words towards her rivals.

The ensuing result is monochromatic politics of the highest order: on one side, well-off people of university stock, who’ve been led to believe that the EDL and BNP are the second coming of the Nazi Party; on the other, people of mostly working class who have misunderstood but understandable concerns about their future and livelihoods, whether it be regarding Islamism, general immigration or simply the sovereignty of the UK, who not only aren’t being reassured, but being arrogantly dismissed and vilified by a bunch of people who can’t even relate to them. Both groups end up screaming at each other, throwing things at each other and leave city centres trashed and communities divided.

Who wins in this case? The elite, as always. The politicians can sneak through legislations and law changes under the radar and away from the public's attention, while everyone's squabbling over which side is right; it's Team Multiculturalism versus Team Patriot. The populist media outlets are often the government's accomplice in this; they will print incendiary stories (such as the one involving a small group of radicals who burnt a poppy during the 2-minute silence for the dead troops of conflicts past) or even fuel hoaxes (not being able to wear England shirts during the World Cup as it may offend foreigners), knowing well that it will cause a chain reaction of xenophobia and knee-jerk anger, then develop support for the EDL, followed by the usual rabid UAF intolerance-is-intolerable mantra. It causes unrest and sells newspapers. And people fall for it every time.

Let’s get one thing straight: the BNP will never get in power. They’ve made so many gaffes in the past, and have so little proper support nationwide (as opposed to joining the BNP group on Facebook to look hard), that they will never earn anything more than protest votes, as in 2009. As of 2010, upon the closing of their Conference in Derbyshire, they still hadn't decided whether to tighten their stance (they promise "increased militancy in future”) or soften it (their new "heart" logo). Clearly not a political body with much of a clue (then again, you could say the same about Labour. And the Lib Dems. And the Tories... oh).

The EDL is also overestimated - they are not Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts. The majority of them are football fans who want an excuse to be drunk and disorderly. Let them. Chances are, without the wall of opposition, in the form of the always ready and willing UAF and associates, they’ll get bored and scuttle off to the pub or stadium.

By the way, if anyone complains about immigrants and how "they come to our country, take our money and take our jobs", consider this: the EDL rally in Nuneaton last November totalled £250,000 in policing costs. The Luton "homecoming" cost £800,000. That's also YOUR money.

And as for radical Islam, this is a debate that should be tackled firmly and intellectually. Those who sympathise with the EDL because they’re genuinely sick of groups of “Muslims” insulting British troops and genuinely worried that Sharia law will replace UK law, as Islam4UK previously declared, need to be recognised, reassured, and re-educated, not dismissed as a “Nazi-racist-fascist” and alienated further. Until the UAF and its associates start recognising that radical Islam IS a threat, then this situation will never improve, and we’ll always be prey to sensationalist news reports and the ensuing pointless scuffles between the two groups.

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