This weekend the so-called English Defence League held a “homecoming” march in Luton, the town where a small group of al-Muhajiroun held a noisy rally against a homecoming parade by a regiment of soldiers recently back from Afghanistan and got much more publicity than they deserved, prompting the formation of one of the EDL’s precursors. Suzanne Moore’s piece in yesterday’s Guardian offers a convenient litany of middle-class liberals sneering at members of the EDL as racists, hooligans and “stupid men in casual sportswear” and suggested that the “chattering classes” watched Stephen Lennon AKA Tommy Robinson’s performance on Newsnight last Tuesday (watch here, UK only) and smugly “amused themselves by commenting on his chavdom”.
All the while, Lennon/Robinson made some supposedly “sharp points” which commonly appear in the mainstream media, regarding “Muslim padeophile gangs” and Muslims’ treatment of women. It is noticeable that they latch onto whatever dirt is being reported about Muslims in the media and exaggerate it beyond recognition, so the present speeches are full of Muslim gangs raping young white girls and making it sound as if this is happening all the time, up and down the country. In fact, it’s the work of specific gangs who are also involved in the drug trade and has nothing to do with the Shari’ah law that Lennon so detests, or with “militant Islam”. It is simply another way he can stir up hatred against Muslims in general.
She is partly right in saying that Lennon/Robinson should not be dismissed as thick. As shown in the Newsnight report above, the guy runs a business (a sunbed shop) and you can’t be totally stupid and run a business in today’s world. Many of his followers are, but the man himself should be called what he is: evil. He knows how to stir up his followers using exaggerations of the already distorted stories about Muslims that appear in the popular press. His tactics involve mobilising large numbers of hoodlums to cause disruption, fear and violence. As I wrote in my earlier article for Muslim Matters on this subject, he is unlikely to be able to lead a mass movement simply because his men’s thuggery is abhorrent to most middle-class people, and a very large proportion of the British population is middle-class.
Any purported “concern of the white working class” cannot be entertained without considering the role of the mass media in fostering it. Irrational and baseless prejudices fostered by the popular press in this country are not new — Linda Colley noted (in Britons: Forging the Nation) that anti-Catholic sentiment (frequently leading to riots) was fostered in the 17th century and after not only by church sermons (that were, needless to say, well-attended then) but by cheap publications such as almanacs, which besides containing information that was useful to farmers, included “a jumble of useful and sensatiomal information, combined with ‘an endlessly popular diet of jingoism, abuse of Catholics, and predictions of the downfall of the Pope and the French’” (quoting Bernard Capp, 1979). Our popular press today is regularly full of stories which distort innocent events so as to blame Muslims or to make it look as if Muslims are threatening the “British way of life” or receiving special treatment.
The BBC’s Face the Facts programme recently featured two of them; in one case, a (white, non-Muslim) family took a neighbouring café to court as they had installed an extractor fan which blew fumes from their frying straight at their front door. Among their complaints were that Muslim friends might not want to come round, but they also found that their house and clothes were smelling of the fumes. The press, however, focussed on the Muslim reference even though the complainants were non-Muslims and the decision was made on the basis of planning law and did not make any reference to Muslims. This led to the local riff-raff taunting the couple who complained in the street, calling them “Paki-lovers” and similar. Another story covered in that feature was about a swimming pool whose windows had supposedly been “blacked out” in response to complaints from Muslim women; they were, in fact, ground floor windows which had been covered by tinted, translucent film in response to complaints from Muslims and others, particularly women.
The EDL are entirely a product of exaggerated media reporting of a small demonstration by a group of Muslim men who are widely despised by the Muslims themselves and have been for years, at least since they began their “Magnificent 19” campaign celebrating the 9/11 attackers. To talk of “having a debate” about race or Englishness or the supposed decline of English culture is to talk of giving in to baseless grievances fostered by the distortions published in the mass media, and allowing them to dictate policy on these matters. It must not be allowed to happen.
Image source: Hope Not Hate.
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