the day the EDL didn’t show up

Richard Price reports on last month’s English Defence League and Islamist provocations in Tower Hamlets and the left’s response. See here for an interview with a Bengali secular activist on the same theme.

In mid-May an event was announced for June 20th at the Troxy Ballroom in Limehouse, Tower Hamlets, organised by the UK-IC (UK –Islamic Conference) (1) . The list of speakers was impressive and global including the likes of the Malaysian Sheikh Hussein Lee. And bigots to a man: and, of course, they are all men.  All of them having been quoted as spouting filth supporting violence and rape against women in marriage, killing gays and violent anti-Jewish racism (2).

Sadly, instead of an immediate reaction of east London progressives to oppose this meeting, the EDL (English Defence League) (3) jumped up and said they would march against the meeting. The EDL are an odd crew, a few right wing libertarians ideologically against Islamic conservatism, a few neo-Nazis trying to ferment race riots, but what appears to be a majority who are ‘British loyalists’ i.e. working class conservatives, who support the notion of a ‘Great Britain’ and will fight for that, who, while ignoring the massive loss of power neo-liberalism has wrought on us, are panicked by the almost irrelevant threat of Islamism in the UK.  On the one hand it says it is simply against Islamism and the threat to British liberalism brought by that but its attacks on Islamism end up looking pretty much like scapegoating all Muslims, deeply dangerous in a period when we need to be united against the state as it attacks.

As soon as the EDL announced they would march, left wing and community activists in Tower Hamlets started to organise against them, but Unite Against Fascism (UAF) said we should be criticising the EDL alone. When trade unionists argued we should link it with opposing cuts they were shouted down and when socialists and anarchists from the likes of The Commune, Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL), Feminist Fightback and Whitechapel Anarchist Group (WAG) (4) argued we should oppose all bigotry they were accused of racism. So instead of a general community demonstration against bigotry a group was launched, United East End, under the thumb of UAF (Unite Against Fascism) who called a demo on the same day. (5) Meanwhile Tower Hamlets council, fresh from the electoral wipeout of Respect and IFE (Islamic Forum for Europe, based at the East London Mosque, controlled a large number of Respect and Labour councillors (6)), got the Troxy to sign up to its ‘Anti-Hate Crime Agenda’, and on the basis of that the Troxy pulled the conference with a week to go. Immediately the EDL, its job done, whether that be anti-Islamism or simply shit-stirring, pulled their demo. The council asked United East End/UAF to do likewise but they refused.

But it is also crucial here to understand that both UAF and IFE, like the EDL, had an interest in winding up local youth, as they all operate opportunistic political strategies based on recruiting from troubled situations. IFE, the night of the EDL incursion, sent around texts saying Bangla women were being attacked and raped. UAF put out, continually and dishonestly – as they must have known otherwise – that thousands of EDL were going to descend on Whitechapel and that their real target was the East London Mosque (ELM).

More progressively, a couple of days before the event a Unity Platform Against Racism and Fascism (7) of Bangla organisations like the Bangladesh Welfare Association, put out a statement attacking the fascism of the IFE and arguing there was no basis for unity against fascism with the IFE, a group who were the descendents of the Islamist death squads who had murdered tens of thousands of Bangla nationalists and socialists in their 1971 War of Liberation against Pakistan (8) . The UAF reacted by accusing the supporters of this statement of racism. Actually it is deeply racist of the UAF and its supporters to treat all Bangladeshis as having the same politics and are not able being able to identify the fascists in their own ranks. Their politics is as divisive and bigoted as the BNP. Yet it was this group that the Respect Party used as a machine to help get George Galloway elected. The British equivalent would be of creating an alliance with unrepentent descendents of the UVF/LVF in Ulster.

The day of the march maybe 5,000 arrived at Stepney Green for a march to Altab Ali Park (named after a young Bangla worker murdered by racists in 1978). The vast majority of them were male Bangla youth, with no more than a few dozen white Leftists. At the start the wound up crowd shouted down a council spokesman and later cheered the inflammatory opportunism of George Galloway (9) (recently humiliated in the Bow election). Almost immediately, believing the EDL to be in Whitechapel several hundred youth broke through police lines and ran to Whitechapel but found, surprise, surprise, no EDL. There were EDL in London that day; about 20 had shouted outside the Hilton on Edgware Road, where the Troxy meeting had decamped, and then gone to Whitehall to support the demonstration of One Law For All, an anti-Sharia group based on various Iranian communists and UK libertarians, and opposed on this day by Al Muhajiroun and MAC (Muslims Against Crusades). Attempting to attack the MAC demo they were quickly arrested and taken away.  The 300 youth so decided then to march all the way into London to confront the EDL, who by the time they arrived were long gone. Though most on this breakaway march were non religious, elements were and they had wound up the youth so when they arrived in Whitehall they shouted at One Law For All as if they were the EDL. Later they were pushed by the police to join the MAC group and while some did, most were not interested.

Back at ELM after the main march had gone, the left had disappeared, though a couple of UAF organisers were in and out of the ELM. Whitechapel Anarchist Group had always warned the real danger to Tower Hamlets youth comes from the police (and poor housing/work etc etc) and had stationed themselves near the ELM all day and handed out thousands of bust cards with legal information to the youth which proved very popular. Unsurprisingly around 5pm the police attacked the hundreds of youth, who were still in the area, believing the EDL were on the way, but receiving a firm response, pretty well withdrew from the streets.

The day showed a Bangladeshi youth who, while they will not take any shit from anyone, like the rest of the working class, have been lied to by so many people they do not know what to believe. But critically it summed up the collapse and bankruptcy of a left who, incapable of relating to and organising around peoples everyday interests survive, just, by opportunism, by winding up youth, by lying and by working with those whose interests are diametrically opposed to working class power like the IFE. The response of the WAG, and other independent left, supporters on that day, to defend their immediate area, and to support local youth against any attack, was the most mature, a community response that was needed not just there but in the whole of the borough that day. It is as united working class communities we will stop those who seek to divide us on ethnicity and religion, as do the BNP and IFE, but also those attacks from the neo-liberal state.


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