On the 9th of July there were two marches. One was by the far-right English Defence League (EDL) protesting against the expansion of a local Mosque and a perception of an influx of Sharia Law. The second was by the self explanatory United Against Fascism (UAF) and billed itself as a “multicultural celebration of diversity”.
It is remarkably easy to explain the differences of atmosphere between the two protest. At 10:30am the UAF protest was in a buoyant mood, children, balloon hats and costumes created an air of festivities. At the same time the EDL were congregating and beginning to drink at a local pub. Here the atmosphere cannot be described as anything else but tense. A far larger police presence despite a considerably smaller turnout just shows that the reputation of violence that the EDL has earned precedes them. I was personally struck with the unwillingness that the members displayed in having their photograph taken or indeed to speak to me. Surely the point of a protest is to vocalize your message and the silence and glares that I was subjected to could only create an impression that what they wanted to say may not be palatable.
When speaking to the one EDL member that was willing to talk to me it becomes clear how confused and bigoted their beliefs are. On the aforementioned issue of the Mosque expansion the reason for opposition because ‘there aren’t enough Muslims’ to warrant it. Yet in the same breadth I was told about how Muslims and radicilastion were on the rise and how the country was being ‘Islamafied’.
Like most far-right organisations the EDL wastes little time before trying to paint itself as being victimised. Accusing the UAF of provoking violence against them with the only evidence being the ‘EDL go to hell’ chant that is used by the UAF. There is no mention of the ‘Burn the Mosque’ chants heard in Preston (youtube link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5dpcH2GNq0) and the chants ‘English until I die’ and ‘never surrender’ are antagonistic and sounds like they are seeking a fight. While the protests in Plymouth were peaceful there were reports in Cambridge that members of the EDL had begun fighting amongst themselves for lack of anyone else to fight.
While UAF certainly won the day on the basis of the body count, there is still work to be done. The majority of onlookers that I spoke to seemed to sympathise more with the EDL’s message the typical perception being that ‘they can say what they like about you but you can’t do the same’. This is of course untrue, every single citizen has to abide to anti-hate legislation and there have been cases of Muslim clerics being charged under these acts, most notably Abu Hamsa. Thankfully, while these people seemed to share some of the sentiments of the EDL they were dismissive of the group as a whole ‘it won’t work’ said one pensioner ‘they ask for too much out of hatred rather than sense’.
On the day though, it was undoubtably a victory for UAF and multiculturalism.
Sidenote: The majority of the photos accompanying this blog were taken by my house mate for which I am thankful. There should be some video footage coming out in the next couple of days as well.