We should all invite the EDL for tea and biscuits
From Brother Ivo:
Meet Tommy Robinson, or Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, or Paul Harris.
He has a chequered past that reputedly encompasses football hooliganism, criminal convictions and imprisonment, and now he has re-invented himself as a political activist, and as such is the major spokesman for the English Defence League. This group can now be seen marching raucously in many of our town and city centres, primarily protesting the growth of Islamism, but also, by necessary implication, highlighting the alleged intellectual torpor of the principal parties and metropolitan elites as they struggle to strike the balance between security, liberty and the cultural diversity they enthusiastically promoted.
Rough-hewn people like Tommy Robinson used to be denied the oxygen of publicity through back-room discussions between politicians and a handful of leading editors. But today the Internet proves that if they share little else, the EDL and Islamists slip with ease through all attempts to silence them.
Opinion, like water, finds its own level, and there is little the great and the good can do to stop it.
This new world of communications presents a paradox: while once there was a shared cultural narrative which could be shaped and promoted by a relatively small class of opinion formers, now each of these outlets for news and opinion (including this august blog) feeds into its own self-selecting audience. We can hear and know much more, but we tend to use this freedom to compartmentalise ourselves into more entrenched ghettos of opinion. Community is fragmented, and when this is coupled with ‘multiculturalism’ it is little wonder that our political rulers are struggling to keep up with the fast-moving monster they helped to create.
They did this in a variety of ways. The progressive movement thought it had captured the commanding heights of the media economy when it gained dominance in the BBC and the major newspapers. We saw its early successes in writing the agenda for a Palestinian state, the EU, abortion reform and Irish Republicanism. It was the BBC that undermined British Government attempts to marginalise Sinn Fein by employing actors to voice the words that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness were not allowed to speak for themselves. Unfortunately for that strain of opinion, the chickens are coming home to roost. We are fragmenting in our news sources and our communities.
If bomb-planting Irish Republicans and Palestinians deserve to be heard, why not violent Islamists? And if them, why not the EDL? If one media outlet ignores such opinion, another will promote it.
Their voices and views are not only available to those immediately seeking them out, but by links and references, especially on Twitter, where new unknown and unsought material can arrive by re-tweet.
It was by this route that Brother Ivo encountered Mr Robinson. Brother Ivo's history is not one that has taken him often into such circles: he protested against Enoch Powell as a student; has been in business partnership with both a Muslim and a Jew; has sponsored two Muslims to British citizenship; and was on one occasion the sole civilian witness against the then Chairman of the National Front when that gentleman was successfully prosecuted for fomenting public disorder in his town. He is not in sympathy with racists, xenophobes, or the religiously intolerant.
So when he began listening to Mr Robinson, it was from no stance of sympathy but rather one of open-minded scepticism, which he tries to adopt whenever he confronts a new problem or unfamiliar argument.
As he listened, he reminded himself that there have been many grass-root movements that are loved by the Left. When banker-hating ‘Occupy’ besieged St Paul's, its then Dean insisted we listen and resist their lawful bodily eviction. When demonstrators at Lady Thatcher's funeral held placards simply stating ‘Tory Scum’, we were encouraged not to be outraged. Billy Bragg will still get an audience for his songs about the Poll Tax riots or the miners bravely defending their communities by fighting the police.
It should surprise none of us that a working class movement like the EDL is attracting support in towns which have been transformed by immigration policy. These are the people whose children attend schools, where teachers struggle to teach children of a dozen or more different languages, or attend doctors’ surgeries where the speed of throughput is extended by the need for interpreters. Neighbours move: streetscapes are not as one remembers, and such change always breeds resentment. Working-class community resistance to change was captured 50 years ago when Lionel Bart wrote ‘Fings ain't wot they used to be’. It had nothing to do with race or immigrants, but tells us where working-class communities come from when there is change afoot. Even Witney might resist the odd windfarm or three.
Hatred of the newcomer is not acceptable: impatience with politicians from Notting Hill and Hampstead who never seem to share these problems is both foreseeable and understandable.
The more he reflected, the more troubled Brother Ivo became that part of the issue is a looking down on this movement because it does not have a veneer of bien pensant articulate celebrities to speak for it. Yet, historically, men like the EDL protesters have been significantly represented in the armed forces. The Duke of Wellington described the men who defeated Napoleon as ‘the scum of the earth’. Yet were these not also the same kind of men who defeated the Kaiser, as Harold Macmillan famously remarked about the striking miners?
Many have re-written history so that the armies that defended our liberties and freed Europe were not apparently acting from the patriotic impulse of such like the EDL, but were apparently ‘anti-racist’. This significantly overlooks that there were no black officers in the Brigade of Guards, and that it was a segregated Army which stormed the beaches of Normandy and defeated Hitler, while higher-minded intellectuals claimed conscientious objection.
Brother Ivo's reflections have had to be developed with the news that the hacking group Anonymous has apparently taken upon itself to publish the personal information online of those who may or may not be senior leaders or in sympathy with the EDL. That sympathy might extend to those who absolutely hate immigrants, or be qualified and limited to an objection to the blood of British troops blood being shed on behalf of people who do not seem to appreciate it.
It is interesting that Anonymous never felt the need to hack and expose the identities of those behind Islamist websites. They are as narrow-minded as the worst of their opponents. Equally, it is interesting that the BBC reported with equanimity that the police may not commit much resource to tracking down the hackers and bringing them to justice.
Does anyone notice a disparity of response here? We expended millions of pounds to protect the establishment darling Salmon Rushdie when he offended Islam, yet ordinary people who exercise their freedom of speech can apparently be placed at risk with barely a shrug of the collective Establishment shoulders.
There appears to be a range of opinion within the EDL, as in so many political movements. One of the most heart-warming stories this week was of the York imam who invited EDL protesters into his mosque to take tea. It is significant that the invitation was accepted. Community peace is developed by such personal interactions; not by self-righteous denunciation.
It appears that even Mr Robinson has found common ground with a reasonable Muslim commentator who came to one of the rallies to interview him:
That photograph called to mind another unlikely pairing:
Before debates can begin, however, there must be a law-abiding, civil society.
Whether we are considering healing the divisions of Belfast or Luton, there will be grievances, progress, setbacks, disagreements, sabotage, stereotypes and emotions. If Muslims and the EDL can make tentative moves to talk, surely our mainstream politicians and media can begin to show similar understanding? When people are engaged, dogma can be challenged. A useful starting point emerged on Brother Ivo's twitter timeline:
‘Multiculturalism is the politically correct term for Apartheid.’ Discuss.
(Posted by Brother Ivo)