So what do we call these Scum? Anton Vowl asks, what indeed.
The English Defence League claim to have been declared a “proscribed organisation” by the self-proclaimed “anti-establishment” BNP. Yet, their propaganda uses headlines garnered from the mainstream media.
Set up following protests in Luton organised to abuse returning British Soldiers, they are a gang of overwhelmingly (possibly exclusively) white, poor, disaffected football hooligans with a fanatical hatered of Islam.
However rather than being ideological firebrands, the rank and file are apolitical and “their main motivation is actually the beer, camaraderie and chance of a fight.”
Better than Islamists, “brown people” or “foreigners” might be a more apt description for their targets – or it might not – it is quite hard to tell whether their propaganda about targeting “islamification” is genuine or a smokescreen.
Although keen to present themselves as only opposing extremists like Anjem Choudhry, Carl Packman highlights the hostility of the EDL towards all Muslims.
Ray, during the interview conducted by The Stirrer’s editor Adrian Goldberg on Talksport, revealed, however, that it is not just Islamic extremism that he takes a disliking too. The entry explains;
During the course of the interview, it became apparent that Ray’s own view of Islamic extremism isn’t limited to suicide bombers and hook handed preachers of hate.
He argued that the Qu’ran teaches all its advocates to wage jihad or holy war in non-Muslim countries, and acknowledged that on this basis, all devout or practising Muslims in Britain, are – in his words – “at war with our country.”
When pressed, he said: “They’re ultimately engaged in converting our country to an Islamic state…that is the religious mandate of the Qu’ran that all Muslims must adhere too.”
The organisation, along with another similar Stop the Islamisation of Europe, with divisions all across Europe, has tried its hardest to appear simply against “Islamofascism”, and the apparently slow descent into a totally Islamic state.
A Very 1930s Wardrobe.
UAF (United Against Fascism) undoubtedly see the EDL as a modern British Union of Fascists, contemporary footsoldiers for the BNP.
In 1936 Oswald Moseley tried to lead his Blackshirts through the Jewish East End of London and was repelled by Jews, Socialists, Irishmen, Anarchists and Londoners. This is the scene UAF and SWP envisage, probably hope for.
This is an unlikely but realistic development from the EDL’s current position. Although the BNP have disowned the EDL – even admonishing them for “marching with negroes” – it seems their mutual disrespect does not extend to Facebook where senior figures remain friends (H/T Eric the Fish).
A modern Battle of Cable Street would not be pretty but it may be on the way. Despite their cowardly exploits so far, it seems the EDL are spoiling for a fight and various Muslim groups are only too keen to give them one.
There is something particularly un-British about Jackboots on cobbled street and it would be hard not to join Lenny’s triumphalism if Cable Street repeated itself. I agree that they must be challenged, but no arguments would be won and it may play directly into the EDL’s arms.
It seems the EDL have struck a chord with some. Their arguments questioning the loyalty of Muslims come not only from their own paranoia and the pages of the Daily Mail, they come from the pages of history too.
A Very 1820s Argument
Anyone who knows anything about the Tudors knows that a lot of Catholics got burnt to death.
Whether this is entirely accurate or not, it illustrates the difficulties which Catholics have had to endure living in Britain. Since the establishment of the Church of England by Henry VIII Roman Catholicism has been viewed as an existential threat to Britain, and until relatively recently Catholic have been pictured as inferior, feckless and treacherous.
The reasons for this pariah status are many, but the arguments provided then bare a striking symmetry with those deployed by the EDL against Muslims today.
To provide some historical background you have to understand that following the Act of Union between Scotland and England in 1707 the positions of Catholics was enshrined in law as second class citizens. In fact, our constitution still bars them from becoming the Head of State.
Life only began to slowly improve for these poor souls with various Catholic Relief Acts in the 18th Century. While these only allowed them to own property, inherit land and join the army they still provoked riots. While progress had been made since the bonfire-happy 1500s the nineteenth century was still fairly unpleasant place for Catholics.
The slow expansion of the franchise had entirely bypassed Catholics, it was only in the 1829 that the vast majority of the various laws penalising them were repealed. For example, only in the 1830s could they become MPs or senior civil servants.
Catholics and Muslims
First of all, there is the simple pre-existing prejudice that existed and exists against Catholic Irish and Muslim South Asian and Arab immigrants.
It is easy to rationalise hostility to the competing Catholic Irish labour force during the nascent Industrial Revolution, but it is more difficult to explain the brazen Sieg Heils at recent EDL rallies without reaching fairly daming conclusions.
But there are further reasons both groups have faced hostility. These are more complex than simple racism, but can prove just as stubborn to overcome.
Arguments for repressive action against Catholics and Muslims have been couched in terms that portrayed them as a physical threat to the UK. The EDL are quite plain that they consider the recent appearance of Muslims and Mosques an invasion.
The Catholics in early modern Britain were seen as such a threat that Test Acts were introduced in 1672, 1673 and 1678 to “test” those who wished to become public officials. The Long Title of this act was “An act for preventing dangers which may happen from popish recusants.”
The idea of an external Catholic threat to Britain was quite valid at the time, although the threat from actually existing Catholic subjects was negligible.
The King of France had taken in Catholic James II following his overthrow in the Glorious Revolution, and a Catholic invasion was attempted via Ireland soon after. Moreover, the Pope was no mere public figure head in the 17th Century, he was the head of an army and his own Papal states with a penchant for interfering in the affairs of Sovereign nations.
The same challenged is levelled at Muslims today. Under the pretence of helping to avoid another 9/11 or 7/7 Muslims are stigmatised as part of a larger conspiracy just as Catholics were accused of being a part of a “Popish Plot.”
While it probably true that some Catholics were plotting to bomb parliament, just as some Muslims have planned terrorist attacks, it was ludicrous to treat them as second class citizens for the criminal actions of a minority. The threat from a certain tiny number of Muslims has been used and abused to stigmatise the majority. This is as futile now as it was then.
The external threat from Muslims rests on the idea of a unified body politic. Failing this it is argued that Muslims owe a loyalty to the Ummah first, and not their fellow citizens.
The diversity of Shia, Sunni, Sufi and other Muslim sects should be a poweful argument against the idea of any unified force existing, but is seems theology is not be the EDL’s forte.
In retrospect we can see that the contemporary arguments against Catholics seem to hold little more water than their modern equivalents. However, at the time we must remember that there really was a united head of the religion who demanded ultimate loyalty, the Pope.
Of course, for all the theoretical devotion which is demanded by the Ummah – or Pope – the actually existing situation differs greatly from the one proposed by the EDL.
Just as it has proved easy to be Catholics and British, it is equally possible to be Muslims and British.
The arguments that Muslims or Catholics are a threat because they owe a loyalty to something other than the motherland, or fellow citizens, is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. This won’t stop the EDL using it but, bearing in mind these historical parallels, the majority of the population will not be taken in.
Demographics are Destiny
Ironically, the one thing which made the Catholic’s triumph inevitable has also proved the hardest hurdle for Muslims to overcome: Demographics.
The 1800s saw the Catholic population grow in size, power and influence, while demographic changes did not make the extension of suffrage inevitable it made it possible. Direct action from Daniel O’Connell met broader societal change and helped to smash the old system and bring Catholics into the mainstream.
The paranoia which helped spark the riots which followed the earlier Catholic Relief acts had been disproved by simple experience. The expanding numbers and influence of Catholics was no longer used as reason to mistreat them but as a reason to allow them full rights and respect.
The contemporary account of demographic change is less pleasant. The relative fecundity of Muslims has become a major rallying cry for the EDL. Despite the dodgy figures and sums being debunked the EDL still claim a Muslim takeover is inevitable.
The ideas of a Muslim Majority Europe relies on a series of assumptions so colossal that no demographer worth their salt would back them. Muslim birth rates rarely seen outside rabbit warrens would have to be combined with a lack of integration unheard of outside of southern Spain.
As has been shown time and again, familiarity breeds tolerance and even acceptance. Today the EDL should be openly challenged, and broader changes in society will do the rest. The numbers of Muslims will increase but not dramatically and the world will not end (personally I hope they see the light and join me in blissful atheism, but that’s for another post).
The changing composition of society proved that Catholics were not bent on world domination and could be trusted. In the following years Catholics made ever greater contribution to society.
Hopefully the same will be said when people look back at this period and the EDL will be relegated to an aside in a footnote on some protests in Luton.
More information on the EDL available from ByrneTofferings and Liberal(Democrat). Pickled Politics, Lenny and Socialist Unity also all carry stories on the EDL. Visit your Pastor for more information on Catholics or email firstname.lastname@example.org.