Addressing the problem of the English Defence League

The debate continues about how to address the problem of the English Defence League (EDL). The only problem is that both sides of the debate are wrong.

In yesteray’s Independent, Rob Williams said that “as reprehensible as the ideas the EDL/WDL are, they are not a serious threat to the social cohesion of the UK.” As such, “the argument could be made that letting the police treat the WDL protests as a public order issue, whilst the rest of us to stay out of it is the best approach.”

This is a common argument from liberal statists and centrists. For them, “this isn’t the 1930s, and this isn’t the rise of Nazism or Fascism.” Groups such as the EDL can be safely ignored on the grounds that, like a two-year old, they thrive on the attention.

To a degree, this is true. The EDL, as the BNP, gain support by presenting themselves as the voice of opposition to the establishment. They want to build up a black and white image in peoples’ heads that it’s the ruling class, the anti-fascists, and any other bogeyman of their choosing, against them. Press coverage helps them build that picture, ignoring the more complex reality in order to build up the idea of everyone versus fascism in some kind of a cataclysmic showdown.

But this is a question not of attention but of propaganda. All the attention levelled at fascists may help their cause, but it also helps the establishment – as I argued with Nick Griffin’s appearence on Question Time.

The answer is not to ignore them, quite simply because those the EDL appeal to are the ignored and marginalised of society. Some may side with this rag-tag organisation because they’re racists looking for a barney, but most harbour quite genuine grievances and – in the absence of anything else – turn to the EDL because they’re saying the right things.

This is why Unite Against Fascism’s (UAF) approach is also ineffective and even counter-productive.

All of these issues are lost in cries of “Nazi scum off our streets” by a group which is happy to align itself with anybody from the leader of the government which is currently attacking the working class to openly bigotted Muslim “leader” Iqbal Sacranie. They really do want an alliance of everyone against the fascists, no matter how unsavoury some elements of that “everyone” may be.

A prime example is the recent protest in Tower Hamlets. The EDL were due to protest an event held by Islamists called “The Book That Shook The World.” Local groups issued a statement “against fascism in all its colours,” which denounced the EDL and the Islamic Forum of Europe with “their very reactionary version of political Islam.” By contrast, UAF called the event “a peace conference, organised by a Muslim charitable foundation and aimed at building understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims” and those who thought differently (such as the Whitechapel Anarchist group) were soon accused of racism.

This is why the EDL hold credibility when they claim that UAF “support Muslim extremists.” The group, essentially just a recruiting front for the Socialist Workers’ Party, is so desperate for its “broad and common front” against fascism to work that it won’t criticise anybody but the EDL and BNP.

The English Defence League is a reactionary organisation which serves to divide the working class against itself. But so, too, are the groups on the Islamic far-right. The only sensible response, as the locals did in Tower Hamlets, is to unite the working class to “be on guard against Fascism in whatever form it occurs.”

In the words of the WAG;

The wellspring of unity lies in the common ground that we share and the action we are prepared to take in the fight for a better future for all; regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexuality or religion.

I couldn’t agree more.

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