Tea Flasks and Fascists
My beloved city of York recently made a name for itself as the place that offered the Fascists tea and biscuits in the face of a proposed protest at a local mosque. It was a brilliant afternoon, but looking around at all the media coverage, one senses that the story has been warped to back intolerance to alternative tactics in tackling fascism on our streets and in our communities.
The event itself was more accident than design. I got an email early on the Saturday evening informing me that the Mosque were inviting the community to join them for tea, a message I was happy to pass on to about 80 contacts by phone. Judging by who was there the next day, many of them responded and brought friends. But the Mosque had only originally intended to say that, should any EDL turn up, they’d be invited in for tea. Thankfully they knew which side their 100+ visitors were on!
The local media coverage was great, and Ann Czernik’s piece in the Guardian was great to read – she’d visited the Mosque entirely on the basis of a text I’d sent and had thoroughly enjoyed reporting on the day’s activities. And then the story started to get picked up elsewhere. Quickly it morphed from the specific decisions of one group of Muslims in a specific situation and at a specific time, towards a one-size-fits-all solution.
Before critiquing that particular viewpoint, lets start with some of the realities which led to the idea and made it appropriate. First, the Mosque is down a small lane and somewhat out of site. The location is actually quite embarrassing – tucked away as if we’re not sure we want people to know its location. Although there are options for getting out in a hurry from the area in front of the gates, they’re pretty limited, and any trouble would leave someone cornered. There wasn’t any room for confrontation.
Second, we had no idea how many people would show up, and mostly likely it wasn’t going to be many. There was little apparent risk of us getting mown down by hordes of EDL, as almost happened in Newcastle the previous day. It was very unlikely that they would be arriving with bottles or even petrol, or so we hoped. The EDL has never been seen to have more than about 6 members in York, and we could handle them very well. As a result, we also didn’t know how many people would want to launch a full-scale security operation for the mosque.
There might be some other factors, but essentially, that was our reality, and so a tool was selected to fit the problem. No one should see it as a template for all future anti-EDL actions. There are very good reasons why people chose to run with the tactic, and they may not be relevant in other cities, at other events or on other days.
The viewpoint I referred to earlier seems to be an attempt to latch onto the first thing that doesn’t look like traditional anti-fascist tactics and hail it as a sign of a more liberal and tolerant age. The thing is, why would anyone see tolerating the EDL’s presence on our streets as a positive step forwards? No other ideology teaches people to assemble in crowds in order to beat up the weakest elements of our society and burn their property as a ‘unifying action’.
It feels a bit like the last few years of relatively low activity by the Far Right has left us with a lot of education to do amongst ourselves. Many of those turning up to anti-Fascist events have never heard of ‘No Platform’ and some don’t see the task as one of preventing assembly. Still others want to take the approach of Hope Not Hate, and plead with the Home Secretary to ban marches. We need to be educating our fellow travellers about the history of our movement and why these methods are not only futile but actively harmful.
Mugs of tea work in a town like York, but I wouldn’t be telling the people of Muswell Hill, who’s mosque has just been torched, to adopt the tactic. I would ask people not to use our efforts and our success to patronise or attack those who’s lives are being endangered by the rise of Fascism here or elsewhere in Europe. Our movement will only thrive if it respects community autonomy.
(P.S. You might be interested in this post I wrote some time ago: Don’t ban the English Defence League)