Of late I’ve seen a number of tweets and blog articles questioning why some “good liberals” suddenly go hard-line when it comes to allowing the English Defence League to have their marches, and start supporting banning them, particularly the one which is meant to take place in east London tomorrow. I’m not a liberal in the same way as the people being referred to, and to me it’s not a matter of principle but a matter of people’s safety, if not life and death, that these marches not be allowed to go on.
The reason I support banning this march is that any time the EDL attempt to march through a Muslim area (and the whole point of this organisation is to “reclaim” or “protect” Britain from a mythical Muslim take-over, so there would be no point in them marching anywhere else), there is always disorder. They commonly attempt to break through police lines (meaning it takes a greater effort, and a greater cost, to police) and if they were to succeed, they would certainly damage property and use violence against local Muslims, or locals perceived to be Muslims. While it is true that there is often a violent extreme element on many demonstrations, it is usually a tiny minority and has nothing to do with the organisers. With the EDL, it is the whole point of the demonstration.
There is a big difference between demonstrations aimed at influencing those in power, be it the local council or the government, or even a major company, and those aimed at intimidating a section of the population (see this article by the local mayor, Lutfur Rahman, in yesterday’s Guardian). The latter category includes the Orange marches, and the marchers’ insistence on marching through predominantly Catholic areas was always a major source of tension which sometimes led to rioting. In some cases, the marchers gloated about Catholic fatalities in “Loyalist” terrorist attacks. They often led to people being forced to leave their homes, leading to neighbourhoods becoming more segregated than they had before the Troubles began. On occasions the government attempted to prevent them from passing through these areas, but caved in to mob rule as in the Garvaghy Road incident in 1996.
East London can well do without the EDL coming and stirring up this kind of trouble. It should be remembered that it saw less violence than many other parts of London during the August riots, and the areas with a particularly heavy Muslim concentration (around Whitechapel) saw none. Since the populations there distinguished themselves by obeying the law at a time when many others did not, why should they be subjected to an invasion by this rabble led by football hooligans, many of them with convictions for violent offences, accompanied by either the inconvenience caused by the necessary police presence, or the violence that would ensue when it broke down, or (more likely) both?
The reason I support banning this march is not to do with what the group stands for politically, or what they might say or shout. It is because of what they might do, as demonstrated on countless previous marches. If the EDL wish to march, they should be invited to do as the rest of us do, and march in the centre of London where the well-guarded seat of power is, not where an unarmed minority lives.
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