Latest post on Left Futures

One Nation Anti-Extremism

Without naming names, I want to ask left wing people generally what they would think about an organisation that pitches itself against extremism and fanaticism, that has an LGBT division, a Jewish division, holds banners on protests proclaiming solidarity with Sikh groups and women’s rights.

One prominent commentator recently told an audience about one such group who, on its first demonstrations, held signs up denigrating the persecution of homosexuals and women, but who were in any case demonised by the media.

The same commentator admitted further that he was privileged in that he had a voice in the press, he could raise questions from the comfort of his home or at conferences, and be heard, while other people do not have such privilege. So when they congregate on the street what do we expect?

It sounds perfectly respectable when the commentator goes on to paraphrase Keats by saying that protests in the street are often what happens when the “centre doesn’t hold”. When people feel disillusioned, and not represented by the mainstream, they march – this is something left wingers do all the time.

Only the commentator and the grouping are not left wing in any sense. The commentator is Douglas Murray, speaking in Copenhagen this year about freedom of speech, and the grouping is the English Defence League (EDL).

At the risk of being shouted down, I should quickly like to point out where I may sympathise with Murray. In his speech, which is currently on YouTube but is constantly taken down (so catch it while you can – or contact me for some key quotes if none can be found), Murray notes that he hates it when the media sees a group of working class white people and thinks “excellent: we can call them Nazis”. For me, this lack of nuance instantly smacks of what we now refer to as “chav-baiting”.

But in case you were in any doubt, there can not be any sympathy for the EDL. Though I feel some myth busting is necessary.

The EDL beyond the headlines

First of all they are not Nazis. As expert on far right politics Professor Nigel Copsey has put it, “unlike the BNP (or the NF), the EDL is not driven by a fascist or neo-fascist ideological end-goal”.

Professor Copsey goes on to say that the EDL is best understood as an Islamophobic organisation born out of a “particularly unattractive and intolerant strand of English nationalism”.

Where highlighting the “floating groups” that the EDL claim to share solidarity with, as I did at the start of this piece, may look as though I was painting a counter-intuitive picture of the group, it actually highlights what is most interesting, and what should put us most at ill-ease, about the group’s politics.

Again as Professor Copsey has pointed out, the EDL’s so-called “commitment” to such groups is true to the spirit of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. But already this is striking in its offensiveness.

The implication here being that since Islam is the target of the EDL’s own crusade, their protest trick is to congregate all of the groupings that Muslims, to the minds of the EDL, despise. This is crude stereotyping, pure and simple.

What it looks like is that the EDL are using such groups as a ploy – much like the time an EDL protester took with him a pig’s head to a march, it would seem that from the outset tokenism is being used purely as a means of unreserved offense.

To come back to the start of this piece again, the other reason I chose to highlight the divisions within the EDL was to show that in order to understand the EDL we must understand what really motivates them. It is too easy to simply say they are fascist, Nazi right-wingers. Anyone with a commitment to anti-fascism should always seek to remember this.

But we ought not to dismiss the far right links within the EDL out of hand. Douglas Murray himself didn’t deny that there is a presence – which gave him reservations. Aside from the known and well-documented far right presence in the EDL (for more see here) their leader Tommy Robinson is now vice chairman of the British Freedom Party, which among other things seeks to abolish the Human Rights Act, halt immigration for five years and end welfare payments to immigrants (see their 20-point plan).

How does the Left deal with the EDL

On the eve of yet another major march by the EDL, this time in Walthamstow, it may seem crass, but it is necessary and helpful to the cause to properly understand the groups we are fighting against.

The EDL are not fascists or Nazis. I say this even with their links to far right groups. What we should oppose the EDL for is their commitment to a clash of civilisations theory. They are not a group devoted to challenging Islamism or Islamic Fundamentalism, as they say they are, but skip straight to opposing Islam itself.

Their core support will each have differing reasons to appeal to the EDL, but at heart they seek to make a bête noire of all Islam – by whatever rhetorical tricks possible.

How the left counters it must be carefully done. Towards a fair and equitable society, predicated on tolerance, we should oppose all extremism, from whichever community it comes from. We should pursue one-nation anti-extremism, and oppose in the strongest terms the EDL’s desire for a culture war.


  1. Tom Griffin says:

    I think the EDL could be described as ‘system-supportive extremists’, a term invented to describe the relationship of the John Birch Society to the US mainstream in the early cold war, with the EDL having a similar relationship to the war on terror.

  2. Chris says:

    ‘Murray notes that he hates it when the media sees a group of working class white people and thinks “excellent: we can call them Nazis”.’

    People don’t do that. Trade unions are mostly white working class people but the media doesn’t normally call them Nazis. People call the EDL Nazis because they’re hate-filled thugs, like the Nazis, even if they don’t subscribe to quite the same ideology.

  3. john P reid says:

    Labour should listen to those who have the same views as the EDl, Lord Glasman

  4. Stephen Bell says:

    Misprint perhaps, but “the centre cannot hold” is from W.B.Yeats.

    The really effective way to oppose the EDL is to defend and celebrate multiculturalism. That is the approach that has allowed many communities to actively unite around when the EDL visits. This was achieved again yesterday in Waltham Forest – thanks to the work of “We Are Waltham Forest”, Unite Against Fascism and many others.

    A campaign of “One Nation Anti-Extremism” sounds like the dead-end that Hope not Hate has landed itself in. It’s recent success is preventing a conference of thousands of Muslims taking place. This success is also claimed by the EDL and BNP who campaigned against the same conference. Some of us refuse to put an equal sign between fascists and Muslim organisations.

    The EDL is riddled with active fascists. It’s Islamophobia is unqualified and characterises it as an organisation whose aim is pogroms against the Muslim community. Argue, if you like, whether fascists or football hooligans form its core. But it is a deadly threat to the Muslim community, as a whole.

    All the successful campaigns against the EDL have been distinguished by being a broad alliance of the labour movement, the Muslim community, other faith communities, LGBT people, people with disabilities, students and youth. That is, representatives of all those threatened by the rise of fascism and prepared to defend multiculturalism.

© 2024 Left Futures | Powered by WordPress | theme originated from PrimePress by Ravi Varma