Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Dissecting the English Defence League's "mission statement"

On Sunday, the English Defence League published a "mission statement" on its website, purporting to answer the questions: "what is the EDL all about, what does it want to achieve, how will it achieve those things?" However, perhaps the best thing you can say about it is that it is overly grandiose. More critically, it is an absurd and laughable document whose claims don't match observable reality.

Before I go any further, there is a brilliant irony in that both the EDL and their arch enemies in UAF begin their statements by quoting the same man;
“The world is a dangerous place to live in; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” - Albert Einstein, refugee from Nazi Germany
But, both groups will no doubt be relieved to hear, that is where the similarities end.

Now we get to the fun part. The first section is titled "Protecting And Promoting Human Rights," and I was already in stitches at the point when the EDL claimed it "is a human rights organisation." Surely not? If I was inclined to sell the group to non-members, to make it credible, the last phrase I would ever use is "human rights organisation." At least not to anybody who had the slightest clue what a human rights organisation actually does.

To take Liberty as an example;
We run public campaigns to raise awareness of urgent human rights and civil liberties issues and influence national debate. Our supporters are a vital part of our work, helping to make our voice stronger by lobbying their representatives, signing petitions and sending pledges of support. Find out about our current campaigns and take action now.You can also search our recent campaign materials.

We provide detailed briefings on Bills before parliament, respond to government consultations and give expert written and oral evidence to parliamentary committees on issues which have implications for human rights and civil liberties. Our policy team meet with MPs and Peers to brief them and to ensure that they keep basic rights and freedoms in mind when considering laws and policies. Search our policy paper archive, read research and use our Bill tracker to follow human rights legislation.

We are one of the only UK campaigns that pursue our objectives not only through lobbying but also by taking on legal cases. As well as acting as solicitors for people bringing (or sometimes defending) a case in the courts, we sometimes intervene in cases where we act for neither party. Search our interventions and read about some of our landmark cases.

We work to raise awareness through the media, aiming to influence decision-makers and increase public understanding about human rights and civil liberties. Search Liberty press releases from 2001 onwards, find factsheets about our key issues and read articles and speeches by Liberty staff.

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Unless I have missed a trick somewhere down the line, at no point does getting boozed up and going somewhere for a fight come into that. Nor going to Asian areas of big cities and attacking people, homes, and businesses. Definitely not issuing threats to Asian taxi drivers.

I also imagine that no human rights organisation would declare its support for a police force that had just given a young man a brain haemorrhage and pulled a disabled man from his wheelchair. Twice.

This is not to mention that, as an organisation, the EDL do not pass out advice and information, engage in legal work, lobby MPs and provide briefings to parliament, or utilise petitions as part of their campaigning. In fact, I think shouting "Allah is a paedo" and "we hate Pakis more than you" is probably the extent of their "lobbying."

All of which behaviour somehow clouds the nuanced thinking in the group's mission statement. Because, to give them their due, some of what they say does make sense. It's just a shame that they can't offer any way to put the theory into practice, and that their public actions obscure the fact that there is theory at all. A gang of boozed-up hooligans geared up for a ruck simply doesn't reflect the nuances of an organisation which apparently "must always protect against the unjust assumption that all Muslims are complicit in or somehow responsible" for the actions of Islamists.

Take this passage;
We also recognise that Muslims themselves are frequently the main victims of some Islamic traditions and practices. The Government should protect the individual human rights of British Muslims. It should ensure that they can openly criticise Islamic orthodoxy, challenge Islamic leaders without fear of retribution, receive full equality before the law (including equal rights for Muslim women), and leave Islam if they see fit, without fear of censure.

I have written of similar subjects previously. I insisted that it is Muslims who need to organise against Islamists, and that when they do we need to stand with them on the basis of working class unity against all forms of oppression, domination, and hierarchy. And I have been unequivocal in my criticisms of multiculturalism as a political policy.

But when the EDL say they "will continue to work to protect the inalienable rights of all people to protest against radical Islam’s encroachment into the lives of non-Muslims," I have to ask when they did such work in the first place.

After all, even if the threat were as grave as claimed, the EDL is in no position to see off militant Islam;
They don't organise within Muslim communities. They don't counteract the religious arguments of the Islamists with a class argument to address the real issues that affect and concern Muslims and non-Muslims alike. They don't stand in solidarity with those who oppose the extremists in their own midst. And they don't distinguish issues of religious bigotry from those of religious freedom in order to distance themselves from the far-right and racism.

Instead, they remain a resolutely single-issue group, refusing to acknowledge that there may be any subject more important than what the Muslims are up to. They consistently blur the distinction between ordinary Muslims and militant Islam. They take every half-baked fear-mongering piece of trash in the tabloids as the gospel truth (even whilst claiming that the media is a left-wing propaganda machine). And they fail miserably at disguising the bigotry and xenophobia that underpins their ideology.
This also demolishes the claim that the EDL "Promot[es] Democracy And The Rule Of Law By Opposing Sharia." How they will "oppose sharia appeasement in all its forms" or "actively work to eradicate the sharia-compliant behaviours that are already being adopted, and enforced, in our society" under the current "drink-rally-rampage" campaign model is unclear.

They are right to point out that "sharia is incompatible with the fundamental principles of democracy." But this is a moot point given that the "creeping Islamisation" they fear simply isn't happening.

To take the point about halal meat, literally the only difference between halal and non-halal - as this particularly hysterical video by  Christian Voice points out - is that with halal, the meat is dedicated to Allah. As it was killed in exactly the same manner, and as I don't believe Allah to be a real entity, this doesn't arse me in the slightest. Nor should it you, unless you're a complete fruitbat.

Moving on, we learn that "a central part of the EDL’s mission is public education." And, once again, I find myself unable to keep a straight face.

Whether or not "the British political and media establishment have, for a long time, been presenting a very sanitised and therefore inaccurate view of Islam, shaped by the needs of policy-makers rather than the needs of the public" is a matter for debate. My own view is that the media and politicians have reinforced and even fuelled the fear-mongering of the EDL, the BNP, et al as a way of dividing the working class against itself. I argue the point here, here, here, here, and here, as just a few examples. Five Chinese Crackers and Enemies of Reason also make good points on the subject. The EDL, of course, beg to differ.

But, whatever your opinion, you have to wonder where the EDL's "campaign of public education to ensure that all aspects of Islam that impact on our society can debated in an open and honest way" is. It insists upon its own point of view, refuses to engage with dissenting opinions, and spends most of its time causing aggro. Which might be counter-productive to open and honest debate.

On the matter of "Promoting The Traditions And Culture Of England," the same points arise. EDL members, like all nationalists, talk in ill-defined terms about "our culture," but they display no particularly nuanced understanding of what it is. Let alone respect, when they need a piss.

Here, they claim to "recognise that culture is not static, that over time changes take place naturally, and that other cultures make contributions that make our shared culture stronger and more vibrant." Which is fair enough. Indeed, it's a point I've made myself, though I contend that "our culture" is defined by class far more than nation. In any British city, working class heritage is rooted in old public houses, the old streets full of homes built exclusively for labourers, the sites of historic trade union victories and vicious clashes with the ruling class. Our culture, as workers, is a world away from the culture claimed by those in high society or big business.

But this is something on which socialists and nationalists will never see eye-to-eye. Just as the latter will never agree that the armed forces don't "risk their lives every day in order to protect our culture and democratic way of life," but to serve the interests of political and economic power.

Either way, once again, we find ourselves asking the same question. How will the EDL "campaign for legal remedies to ensure that those working within these important institutions are not exposed to abuse or aggression from within our country," when the only "legal remedy" they have so far concocted is to throw frozen sausages at Islamists when they protest against the soldiers?

On the final point, the EDL's "international outlook to enhance and strengthen our domestic efforts" has so far consisted of getting their arses handed to them in Holland, and joining in with the circus of madness that is the US Tea Party movement. The best you can say about the idea of "the global struggle against Islamic intolerance" is that it is overblown bravado. Surely, if such a thing were necessary, then it would be within the remit of a government and military operation, rather than a rag-tag bunch of people causing mayhem within a police kettle?

This new mission statement, then, does not tell us "what the EDL is all about." Rather, it illustrates what the sophists would like us to believe it stands for. But, whilst they may be refining their rhetoric, they remain fundamentally a fascist organisation. Not a human rights one.