Monday, 25 May 2009

Riots in Luton and media apologism for fascist violence

Yesterday, "up to 400 people set off on a planned peaceful protest" in Luton, in opposition to "demonstrations at an Armed Forces homecoming parade earlier this year," according to BBC News. However, despite the professed "peaceful" intent, "nine men were arrested" after "an Asian man was assaulted, a shop window was smashed and several cars were damaged in the town centre."

Ostensibly, these events were part of a counter-protest, in response to a protest by British Muslims took place during a homecoming parade by the Royal Anglian Regiment. At the time, I argued that "the narrowness of debate and the extreme readiness to advocate suppression of speech when discussing this issue has highlighted a serious deficit in our democracy" and that "if this is a democracy, then the absolute right to protest anything and to say anything - even if it is offensive, ignorant, or wrong - should be a basic, universal benchmark."

My view was not echoed by the media, who called the protests - utterly non-violent though they were - "hate-filled," "sickening," and "vile" and called for laws to prevent such a thing happening again. Of the protesters, only Anjam Choudary was quoted, his words used as proof of the "tirade of abuse" that "our boys" had received. However, on the opposing side, the "fury" of families whose loved-ones died in Iraq and the "outrage" of those attending the parade was well-recorded.

By contrast, in the aftermatch of the shambolic counter-protest, the protesters were quoted at length and the victims of their violence remained voiceless. The Daily Mail spoke to Wayne King, spokesperson for the "United People of Luton," who described how "our community has been racially attacked for the last ten years." The Daily Telegraph also quoted King's call for "laws brought in to stop these preachers of hate operating here in Luton." The presumption that the aim was always "peaceful protest" (whilst of course all Muslim protesters from the original incident were "extremists") went unquestioned, and if there were similar condemnations from politicians as followed the peaceful picket, they went unreported.

Such media demonisation of Muslims and antipathy towards anti-Muslim violence is par for the course. It helps to manufacture and exacerbate ethnic and communal tensions and provide both a convenient scapegoat for governmental failures and a distraction from the crimes of state. In the current climate, however, there is a much more sinister consequence to the media's inherent and systemic bias: it provides apologism and indirect justification for the violent activities of organised fascists.

For, make no mistake, that is exactly what the "United People of Luton" - whose masked members all wore uniform white polo shirts bearing the epithet "No surrender to al-Qaeda" - are. An event of Facebook titled "Marrch in support of British Troops" [sic], and with 23 confirmed guests at the time of writing, is hosted by the football thug group "Hooligan Central." According to the event's description;
All UK casuals are welcome, regardless of team, there is a truce for these marches as saving our country from these evil invaders is much more important.
Whilst several of the "confirmed guests" have been quite open in displaying affections for the far-right BNP, running for election to the European Parliament on an anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim platform.

Does this count as proof that the BNP officially endorses violent attacks on Muslims and Asians? No, of course not. The party has gone to great pains to distance itself from its thuggish past ... on paper. What this does demonstrate, like the attack by Peter Tierney and Steve Greenhalgh on anti-fascists in Liverpool City Centre, or Wirral BNP's incitement to violence against Alec MacFadden in delivering leaflets featuring his home address and the suggestion that he "needs coaching in a certain direction," among just the most recent incidents, is that this element remains strong within the BNP. Non-violent racism is still racism, and those willing to use "well directed boots and fists," to use an old Nick Griffin quote, are never far behind the fancy polemicists in suits.

It also demonstrates that any effective anti-fascist campaign must be one that is run not just against a particular front or organisation, such as the British National Party, but against the very principles that guide such groups. Especially when, perhaps for quite different reasons, they emerge within the mainstream.