This October, in a bid to stir up racial tension and increase religious intolerance, a group calling itself the ‘English Defence League‘ (EDL) intend to hold two protests in south Wales with a “march against muslim extremists” in Swansea on Saturday 17th October and an ‘anti-mosque demo’ in Newport on Saturday 24th October.
It seems that the EDL, which has close links with the British National Party (BNP), have reached out to the fantasist Jeff Marsh of Barry who has cultivated a shady reputation through authoring a number of Cardiff City Soul Crew football hooligan books. Marsh, along with a handful of impressionable young racists raised on a diet of boastful hooligan memoirs and hate-filled extremist internet forums, have formed a “Welsh Defence League” which is acting as a front for both the south Wales protests.
We will be joining the call out by <a href="http://twitter.com/NewportCAR"Newport Communities Against Racism to fill John Frost Square before the fascists arrive and show them that their bigotry is not welcome here! There is an event page on both Facebook and Myspace, as well as a page on Twitter, please invite your online friends and spread the word around. When information about a counter demo in Swansea appears, we’ll post them on here.
The EDL has made a name for itself over the last few months by holding a number of violent street demonstrations in cities across England. Arguably emerging out of the backlash following anti-military protests in Luton, the group has linked up with other tin-pot racist groups such as ‘Stop the Islamification of Europe” and “Casuals United“. These groups appear to be made up largely of young men who have been incited into political action by the BNP, but have been disappointed to find the party have no (public) street agenda. The EDL appears to have given them the outlet of racist posturing that they crave.
Combining anti-immigration rhetoric with rampant Islamaphobia the EDL is the brutal face of the “I’m-not-racist-BUT…” brigade that point to sensationalist tabloid reports in the Daily Mail, Sun and Star to justify their hatred. Despite their insistence that they are not racist right wing extremists and having gone out of their way to present themselves as multi-racial, comments by EDL activists on social networking sites and chants at their demos are littered with phrases like “white power”, “muslims out” and “I hate Pakis more than you”.
Details of the proposed march in Swansea are somewhat sketchy, but the Newport demo is supposedly a protest against the conversion of an derelict church into a mosque and multi-faith centre. According to the EDL this represents the rise of ‘foreign Islamic extremism’, with complaints that a war memorial inside the church is to be desecrated. In reality the United Reform Church on Stow Hill was empty and unused for many years before being sold to the Islamic Society of Gwent. The renovation is to be carried out by CADW and the war memorial has already been removed by the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Nothing is being desecrated and a run-down church is being restored as a place of worship.
Misplaced concerns about the fate of the building were first whipped up by local Tory councillor Peter Davies before being picked up by extremist forums like Stormfront and other BNP-supporting bulletin boards. This protest does not signify any real concern for the plight of Congregational Christianity in Wales, the aim of the group is to spread hatred and xenophobia backed up with violence and intimidation.
Following successful bans elsewhere in the country, there have been calls to ban these protests and deny the EDL any platform. It is totally understandable that people would call for the police to intercede, however as Libertarians we are against bans in principle. Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are core rights in any society, anyone should be able to present their views in public without fear of state intervention. However, that freedom is tempered by the freedom of anyone else to oppose them. Banning the EDL from south Wales would just makes them someone else’s problem, perhaps they would go to a different area where people are less likely to oppose them and they can do more damage.
When bigots mobilise, it is the responsibility of people who believe in freedom and equality to confront them and drown out their message of hatred with one of community unity and a desire for peaceful co-existence. Though as a network anti-fascism is not our principle focus, when such groups take to the streets in an attempt to divide us into the imagined communities of ethnic or racial groups rather than the very real global divide of economic class, they must be resisted.