Time to be honest about the English Defence League

RobinsonDo you agree with Tommy?

In this post I will discuss aspects of the English Defence League as honestly as I can. I realise that, for some people, a discussion of the EDL which fails to dismiss them entirely or to paint them as anything other than scum, hooligans, ogres, racists, fascists or the far-right will be too much to handle, intellectually and emotionally. If you’re one of those people then just look away now. Don’t bother reading this. Go on the CBeebies website or something. You might give yourself a nosebleed otherwise or, worse still, be forced to change your opinion. You might think there’s a lot to be achieved by burying your head in sand and not acknowledging uncomfortable truths, but I don’t. You have a choice to read this, and I have a choice to write it.

How about this for a starter: it’s perfectly possible to be a racist and to be genuinely concerned about Islamism. Maybe the EDL leader Tommy Robinson is a racist, I don’t know. He has certainly openly admitted that the EDL has racist members. But it still doesn’t follow that racists aren’t entitled to believe that Islamism is an abhorrent, inhumane and totalitarian form of social control which has to be resisted at all costs. Because Islamism is an abhorrent, inhumane and totalitarian form of social control which has to be resisted at all costs. This is a fact. Even racist football hooligans are allowed to acknowledge and express this fact. That doesn’t stop it being a fact.

No-one is entitled to a monopoly on the truth. It’s available to everyone. If you despise Islamism, and if Tommy Robinson also does, then you have to stick this in your pipe and smoke it like an adult: there’s something that you and Tommy Robinson agree on. Yes, you have something in common with the leader of the EDL. Does that make you feel uncomfortable? If so, you need to grow up. It doesn’t mean you like Tommy Robinson and it doesn’t mean you agree with him on everything or anything else. It just means you both hate Islamism. Have the maturity to acknowledge that and just deal with it.

Of course, like me, you might be more committed to human rights generally than the EDL. It’s not hard. You might also, like me, be more committed to secularism than the EDL because you devote your energy to challenging all forms of religious power instead of focusing on one particular religion. Good for you, and good for me. But other people aren’t obliged to be so consistent or ideologically pure. They’re allowed to focus on whatever they want, and if that’s only one religion called Islam then so be it. That is their right. Maybe they think that’s the religion that poses the greatest danger to our fundamental civil liberties – which incidentally is my opinion too. Do you agree? Or do you think the radical Islamic cleric is as menacing as the country vicar in Somerset?

The EDL aren’t angels; everyone knows that. But when an organisation is demonised beyond all proportion we run into trouble. Non-angelic organisations occasionally speak the truth, and to dismiss those truths and thereby deny reality is very dangerous indeed. If you dismiss everything an unpleasant organisation says simply because of who that organisation is, you dismiss the rare nuggets of truth that emanate from them. People aren’t stupid. Once they realise some of those messages are true even though the organisation has been demonised to the hilt, do you know what’s likely to happen? They’re more likely to believe the bullshit messages too. Accept the truth, don’t let the EDL monopolise it, and focus on the bullshit.

This is what happens when decent people fail to speak out about Islamism: unsavoury organisations like the EDL fill the void. The increasing prominence of the EDL provides all the more reason to speak out about Islamism, not less reason. There is a human rights-based, non-racist and specifically anti-racist alternative to the EDL. Organisations such as the National Secular Society and One Law For All are excellent examples.

The heightened profile of the EDL is testament to what happens when we pursue a fetish of multiculturalism, cultural relativism and “communities”: before long we have a vociferous white community. If other communities feel entitled to self-segregate then so will sections of the white community.

Not all unpleasant organisations are equally unpleasant. To conclude that the EDL represent an equivalent danger to jihadis is nonsense, and dangerous nonsense at that. There’s a spectrum of harm, and unpleasant organisations don’t all occupy the same position on that spectrum.

I heard a short section of Tommy Robinson’s interview with Nick Ferrari on LBC. Robinson read out some of the explicit, personal and violent threats he has received on Twitter. They were horrible. And what does the populist oaf Ferrari do? He counters that the EDL have chanted “There’s only one Lee Rigby” and “Allah, Allah, who the fuck is Allah?”

That’s right, a specific threat against a named individual and his family, which is rightfully a crime, is considered the same as the legitimate use of free speech in the face of deadly violence. This is shocking inconsistency. It’s an inability and unwillingness to understand free speech. It’s an unhealthy obsession to equate two enemies whatever the facts may be.

Here’s a really uncomfortable truth to end on. It’s perfectly possible to be a racist and to be brave. Tommy Robinson is a very brave individual; in my opinion anyone who speaks openly and honestly about Islamism is brave. It’s very difficult to criticise Islamism and it’s very easy not to, whereas the polar opposite holds true of the EDL.

A group of jihadis plotted to bomb an EDL rally – and please remember, the EDL have the right to march and protest because those sacred rights are for everyone but mercifully the jihadis’ plot was foiled and all six of them were convicted.

Tommy Robinson was in court to hear the verdicts against his would-be assassins and he defiantly shouted “God save the Queen” as the verdicts were delivered.

Even as an atheist, a secularist and a republican, I was moved when I read about that.

Were you? Be honest now.

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