The above bit of EDL apologism by Charles Moore appeared in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, and it also contains a dig at Tell MAMA, the formerly state-funded body that monitored anti-Muslim attacks (hence the acronym) and an attempt to stir up fresh outrage over the murder of Lee Rigby four weeks or so ago, claiming it has died down and people are focussing on a backlash against Muslims which he claims is exaggerated. The fact that it has prompted a resurgence of a formerly moribund violent street gang as well as at least three arson attacks on Muslim properties, one of them burned to the ground, is no exaggeration.
Moore claims he is not defending the EDL, but then goes on to do just that:
A trap is set here, inviting those of us who reject such statements, to defend the EDL. I do not. While not, in its stated ideology, a racist organisation like the BNP, the EDL has an air of menace. It must feel particularly unpleasant for Muslims when its supporters hit the streets. But the EDL is merely reactive. It does not – officially at least – support violence. It is the instinctive reaction of elements of an indigenous working class which rightly perceives itself marginalised by authority, whereas Muslim groups are subsidised and excused by it.
Anyone who was following the blog scene after the 2005 London bombings will remember many people saying that the “root cause” of Muslim terrorism was western foreign policy, in particular British participation in the Afghan and Iraq wars in the case of that particular incident, and the right and the so-called “decent Left” (the pro-western and, in particular, pro-Israel left, which overlooked the faults of their allies on the Right) reacting with disgust, in one case comparing it to blaming rape victims for wearing short skirts. This is exactly the logic Moore is deploying here with the EDL: effectively reducing their level of blame because they are merely “reacting” to what others do. He ignores the fact that it contains a large number of people with violent criminal records, the fact that it grew out of groups of football hooligans, and the fact that violence frequently features in EDL demonstrations; he absolves them because they are from the “indigenous working class”, a common excuse made by the Right for working-class and ex-working-class racism. The thinking is always that we must give into the demands of this sector (or rather, of the newspapers they read) or else the BNP will benefit at the polls or the EDL will cause more mayhem. The same thinking never factors into responses to extremism from Muslims.
In fact, just because they do not have degrees and may work in manual jobs (though not all), they are no less responsible for their actions than Muslim terrorists who may have reacted to western armed forces invading and bombing a Muslim country and firing radioactive munitions around by letting off four bombs in London in 2005. The only people cleared of moral or legal responsibility for their choices are those with cognitive disabilities, which if they lead to them running around in gangs and terrorising football supporters or members of a religious minority, should lead to them being institutionalised. As I have said here before, they were founded in response to a tiny demonstration that was reported out of proportion by the press, continued to hold their menacing demonstrations in response to nothing, and have progressed to more violence as a result of a murder by two misguided individuals last month in Woolwich. They feed off the press: a steady diet of propaganda about “now Muslims are demanding this …”, of Muslims getting special treatment, of polls revealing pro-terrorist or pro-Shari’ah sentiment, and of the ravings of Omar Bakri and Anjum Choudary who represent only a tiny and dwindling group, but somehow always make front-page news. And despite the First Amendment not being part of British law, the idea of draining this particular swamp never occurs to anyone.
The “backlash” following Woolwich may not have been an orgy of violence, but there has certainly been more violence than had been seen at any time before, and the existence of the EDL (which was not around in 2005, let alone 2001) surely has much to do with it. Sure, Tommy Robinson or one of his associates may (and I stress may) not have ordered the burnings of the Grimsby and Muswell Hill mosques and the Chislehurst Islamic school, but the EDL’s presence and behaviour makes violence more acceptable whenever there is provocation. I have also heard reports from personal friends that harassment has got worse, even in places with no significant EDL presence, and the usual victims are lone Muslim women in hijab, even if they are with children. The usual culprits, my friend told me, are groups of young men but sometimes women. As with an earlier comment I heard about Islamophobia being “minor”, this is something only a man could say (street harassment is something a lot of women deal with regularly; some men regard women’s bodies as public property, however modestly, or otherwise, they are dressed).
Moore complains that the outrage over the stabbing seems to be dying away in less than a month since the stabbing. Perhaps the reason is that one person died in a targeted stabbing, which has been the fate of quite a few young men in south London (and elsewhere) over the past few years. The outrage for them isn’t permanent, either, although it did lead to stiffer sentences for street stabbings and shootings. Nobody else was killed, as they were in previous terrorist attacks; it was not an attack aimed at the general public. He also attacks Baroness Warsi for speaking at a conference for the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), because of its Islamist links, and ridicules Malcolm Grant, president of University College London (and chairman of NHS England) for supposedly “resist[ing] the suggestion that he should prevent such extremism on his premises” when someone who used to run the Islamic society at his college several years ago went on to try and bomb a plane — as if anyone knew he would do that at the time. It is, of course, his job if he knows it is going on, but crystal balls are not known for their utility in the fight against terrorism and gazing into the future is not part of his job description.
That the media were mindful of avoiding a backlash against the Muslim community shows some commitment to responsible journalism. That the three buildings attacked had nothing to do with the group that was most closely linked to the two men who stabbed Lee Rigby demonstrated that they were motivated by hatred for Muslims, not extremists or that group. For the media not to talk about the threat of violence to Muslims from a known violent gang would have been seen by some as a green light and by others as complicity. The murder was horrific, but that it is the only successful operation by Muslim extremists in the UK in nearly eight years, and caused less than a fiftieth of the loss of life the last one did, show that “the extremism in our midst”, as Moore calls it, is a small and dwindling tendency and that its dangers are largely contained. They have not yet reached the stage, as the IRA did in 1997, of having to resort to hoaxes rather than actual bombings or killings, but they are getting there. There is no use in crying “remember Lee Rigby!” regularly for months or years after the killing: the cause that inspired his murder is dying. Right now, the easiest way to make sure it goes on dying is to make sure there are no senseless reprisals for his murder.
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