Friday, 26 August 2011

All out to oppose the EDL

by Amy

Following a petition calling for the ban of the EDL march in East London on 3rd September Theresa May has approved a ban on all marches for 30 days starting on 2nd Sept in five London boroughs.  

Since they were formed in Luton in 2009 the EDL have held marches and protests across the country. These have been met by strong opposition from anti-racist and anti-fascist groups, however in places, such as Stoke and Luton, where there has been no public opposition on the day of EDL actions they have been able to rampage through towns, smashing Asian shops. In recent months they have been responsible for beating up two Muslim men in Dagenham, vandalising a mosque in Luton, and attacking socialist meetings, trade union events, and left wing bookshops. EDL members were among those who Ander Breivik, the Norweigian mass murderer, emailed his manifesto to, and a founding member of the EDL is due in court in Oslo this week due to his links with Breivik.

The EDL is clearly a vile racist and islamophobic group, and their actions are taking on an increasingly fascist character, threatening those who protest against the government such as students demonstrating against cuts in education and increases in tuition fees, and trade unionists striking against slashing pensions, cuts to public services and job losses. It is vital that they are opposed, however state bans are not the way to beat the far-right.

The ban placed upon the EDL march in East London is not the first of its kind. EDL marches have been ‘banned’ in Bradford, Leicester and only a couple of weeks ago in Telford. Banning the EDL only stops them from marching, not from assembling and so they will still be allowed to have a ‘static’ protest in the heart of multicultural Tower Hamlets. In previous instances where they have been banned from marching the police have escorted the EDL to their rallying point, giving them the opportunity to march through towns chanting racist slogans. Bans do not stop EDL violence. When the EDL went to Bradford in August 2010 despite a ban they threw bottles and bricks and broke out of police lines to try and attack the local Asian community.

The ban that will come into force at midnight in 2nd September affects all marches in Tower Hamlets, Newham, Hackney, Islington, Waltham Forest. This includes the Unite Against Fascism/United East End counter-march on the 3rd September, and potentially affects East London LGBT Pride, marches to defend libraries and other public services and protests against the DSEi Arms Fair. There is no legal reason why banning the EDL march has to affect any other marches, and so the terms of this ban should be taken as a further attempt to undermine the right to protest, which follows bans on protests in Westminster, extremely harsh and politically motivated charges and sentences handed out to student and anti-cuts protests and pre-emptive arrests that took place before the royal wedding in April.

In 1937 the Public Order Act was passed banning both fascist and anti-fascist protests, but this did not stop racist and fascist groups from growing. Banning fascists from marching will not stop them in 2011 either. Ignoring them and hoping they go away will not stop them. Holding candlelit vigils on another day will not stop them. To stop racist and fascist groups, like the EDL, it takes a united mass movement of thousands capable of opposing them when they take to the streets, and challenging the social conditions that breed racist and fascist ideas.

For some people there is now a sense that anti-fascists have 'won' – the independent mayor of Tower Hamlets has asked those who had planned "to march in support of our cause to stand down...You have helped us achieve our aim and we no longer need a mass show of support." The message Nick Knowles from Hope not Hate is that this “decision is a victory for common sense.” This triumphalism is misguided; it is extremely unlikely that the EDL will pull out of their protest, and so they will be in Tower Hamlets on the 3rd September.

This means that we have to be there too, and urge all the thousands of people who have signed the petition calling for the EDL to be banned to be there in the broadest possible movement on the streets. The lessons from previous occasions where EDL marches have been banned is that is it important to have a visible opposition and anti-racist unity. Where there is no public opposition on the day that the EDL are in town means they are able to go on the rampage, as happened in Stoke and Luton. We cannot allow the EDL to rally unopposed. Where the EDL are opposed, and there are big protests against them, such as happened in Cambridge in July, they are humiliated and weakened.

We need the biggest possible turn out in Tower Hamlets on 3rd September to oppose the EDL and to defend our right to protest.

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