Don’t Ban the English Defence League
The English Defence League have begun 2010 with a splash, making appearances in a couple of different places, including their strong showing in Stoke on Trent. That this is bad news for communities across the UK is not up for questioning. But the debate on how to tackle the EDL is far from over, and many of the solutions being proposed need re-examining.
There are plenty of different strategies for dealing with the BNP and with racism and fascism in general, many of which are underemployed for all manner of reasons. But the EDL provides a very specific problem; in many ways it doesn’t exist until it exists on the streets.
I want to put several options for responding to the EDL on the table. First, there’s governmental intervention, using public order laws to ban either marches or the organisation itself. Second, there’s a continuous grind down by the police, simply throwing tougher and tougher policing at the group. Third, some kind of anti-fascist counter offensive, putting out a show of force on the streets. Fourth, developing a non-violent approach to shutting down their protests that is both autonomous of state interference and rooted in the community.
This list is neither exhaustive nor detailed. But hopefully it illustrates the point that rushing out to support the government placing a ban on the EDL without first considering the implications is both short-sighted and a sign that communities in Britain can no longer function on their own feet. It shows a lack of creativity, and failure to think through the issues at hand.
Public Order legislation swings both ways, and the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit does not discriminate between potential threats to government imposed order on Britain’s streets. Both individual communities and the government might feel under threat from the EDL, but for different reasons. The EDL intends to shred communities like Bradford, where they are expected to rally their supporters during the election campaign, but to the government, control is more important than community cohesion, the second being merely a contributory factor towards the first. Strong communities can be strong like those that went into the miners strike, or the community at Sipson on the borders of Heathrow Airport.
I used Bradford as an example for several reasons. First, I was a student there, so I know full well the problems facing the city after the last riots. Second because it isn’t a strong community as such. The city still hasn’t completely rebuilt itself and council corruption continues to hamper efforts in every way except in providing the pre-text for the Save Our Odeon campaign, which seems to be drawing people together very nicely.
I completely recognise that Bradford will suffer for many years if the EDL’s decision to visit the city results in all-out rioting as it did is 2001. But I also realise that it will do nothing for the city to simply have the situation taken out of its hands by a government who’s interest is not in communities but in law and order, in maintaining the states power. To call for the government to ban the organisation or its actions is to ask the government to vet political opinion, saying what is and isn’t acceptable. At a time when anti-racism laws are being used against Palestine protesters, and where public order policing is being deployed to shut down debate about real solutions to climate change that radically affect our way of life, should we really let the government have these sorts of powers at all?
As to the solutions, the first I’ve hopefully put question marks over. The second is yet again an acceptance that our communities are no longer capable of defending themselves from hatred. The third, and I realise this is an oversimplification, would typically result in a gathered bunch of hardcore activists coming together, who’s courage is to be congratulated but who’s presence is unlikely to strengthen the bulk of the local community.
My last suggestion, being the most difficult to implement, might well be the most rewarding in the long term. Rather than ask the state to use either legislative or physical force to bring down the EDL, we should be mobilising communities, equipping them to be the ones taking the imitative through violence-de-escalation training and affinity group building so that when the day comes, the EDL is resisted through people and not state power. For those are two completely different things, the former capable of building a better world, the latter capable of enforcing a politics of mediocrity and business as usual that wreaks havoc on people’s daily lives. We cannot simply let the EDL gain more power, the question is who we will empower in response.