London Calling : Racism, Woolwich, and Beyond

Two Weeks In Battleground Britain
by Rory MacKinnon

There’s a pithy saying attributed to the late Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson: “A week is a long time in politics.” But two weeks? Two weeks is enough time to reinvent white supremacists as respectable community organisers, and all it takes is the murder of a man on a sunny south London street.

Last month I chuckled as I saw video of the far right UK Independence Party’s leader Nigel Farage turfed out of an Edinburgh pub, pursued by dozens of anti-racist protesters who subsequently received the backing of the Scottish government.

Sixteen days later I was in a crowd just down the road from that pub, looking on as more than a hundred demonstrators with the Scottish Defence League advanced on the Scottish Parliament, performing Nazi salutes and toting placards demanding “END IMMIGRATION NOW”.

Meanwhile in London, a crowd of 500 anti-fascists struggled to hold their ground as police snatch squads hauled away literally dozens of protesters, simply for the crime of standing in the street — all so the neo-Nazi British National Party could march to the Cenotaph outside the Prime Minister’s door.

Less than a week earlier those same anti-fascists were standing on that same street, flinching under a shower of glass bottles as they stood outnumbered three-to-one by around 1500 members of the English Defence League.

The numbers were the same in Newcastle, where the League’s North East organiser Alan Spence assured a cheering crowd they would “send the black c**ts home”.

Charities in the UK monitoring hate crimes have recorded dozens of threats of violence against Muslims, and ten separate attacks on mosques and masjids in the last two weeks, including an attempted firebombing in Grimsby while worshippers were gathered inside.

Even the charities themselves are not safe: Faith Matters’ director Fiyaz Mughal found his home address spreading across Twitter along with calls for him to be shot.

Several friends have described the past week as a Reichstag moment. I’m not convinced: for all their will to power neither the Leagues nor the BNP have the kind of local rackets or overt support from police that propelled Greece’s Golden Dawn to Aryan glory. Meanwhile UKIP’s strictly-enforced silence post-Woolwich has shown it is, if nothing else, a strictly reformist set of eugenicists and bigots.

But Britain’s party politics are far less important than street politics. You might get to vote UKIP on an anti-immigration, War-On-Terror ticket once every two or three years — but if you really want to make your views known you can spit on a Muslim any night of the week. You can even stab a 75-year-old pensioner to death on their doorstep without a national uproar, so long as they’re Muslim.

And this is the crucial thing: whether or not you agree that Lee Rigby died because Britain remains bloody-handed in Afghanistan, the constant rhetoric and constant troop rotations brought the violence home long before Michael Adebolajo decided to set upon Lee Rigby with a cleaver.

Take the case of Azhar Ahmed, convicted of “sending a grossly offensive communication” last year after posting on Facebook that “all soldiers should die and go to hell”:

“What about the innocent familys who have been brutally killed.

“The women who have been raped. The children who have been sliced up!

Your enemy’s were the Taliban not innocent harmful familys.

The post referred to the recent deaths while on duty of several members of the Yorkshire regiment. Azhar Ahmed is himself from Yorkshire. Mainstream media only mentioned this connection in passing, and I can’t claim to read Ahmed’s mind, but consider the regiment’s local reputation.

Exhibit A: The 3rd Battalion’s Scott McHugh, an ardent member of the English Defence League, who posted the following on Facebook in December 2011 — three months before Ahmed’s inflammatory post about members of McHugh’s own battalion.

“Go to afghan in a month and half! Carnt wait to shoot some towel heads ;)

Exhibit B: The 2nd Battalion’s Simon Beech, convicted of burning down a mosque while awaiting deployment in 2010.

Exhibit C: Squaddie Cavan Langfield, who joined his mates in the local English Defence League in a planned attack on a Rock Against Racism gig in 2011.

And what of the mythical Broad Left, so fond of their Keep Calm memes and multiculturalism? Well, the past week has equally exemplified the war on terror’s stultifying effect on liberals, and their ubiquitous fear of extremism. Fascists and anti-fascists of all stripes have been granted a false equivalency, and where your common-or-garden Guardianista once asserted the primacy of peaceful protest, those protesters are now blamed for encouraging fascists by showing up at all. Just as the feel-good ‘Broom Brigade’ fuelled the dichotomy of ‘decent citizens’ and ‘feral underclass’ in the wake of 2011’s riots, so has the newly-anointed ‘Tea Defence League’ latched onto the touching story of York Mosque extending an olive branch to half-a-dozen dazed League demonstrators.

But rather than a community’s collective response to a specific situation, the League – with no apparent links to any Muslim community – seeks not just to encourage further tea parties up and down the country, but to propagate them as the only acceptable response to a violent – and clearly deadly – fascist threat. “There isn’t much you can’t sort out over a nice cuppa,” as its slogan goes.

Meanwhile, organisers’ only apparent response to Saturday’s mass arrests of anti-fascists under section 12 of the public order act (exceeding a ‘maximum duration’ for a protest) was to blame them for making the BNP “look like the victims”. Heaven forbid what they would think of the young Muslim men patrolling Tower Hamlets for the last few years, assuming they had actually ever heard of them.

It’s not a good time to be brown or red in Britain. We’re getting beaten black and blue.