I despise the English Defence league. I despise the racism they display and the stupidity of the views they extol, let alone the actual stupidity some of their members exhibit – be it fighting each other on the streets of Blackburn or complaining about ‘Muslamic ray guns’.
There are two things I believe you should with them. Challenge them at every turn, and mock them when their idiocy is all too apparent.
However, after a campaign by Labour councillors and various anti fascist groups the Metropolitan police have applied to the home secretary to ban an EDL march in East London. The EDL are racist, their views are unsavoury but they have political grievances to air, albeit misguided. Isn’t banning their marches just counterproductive? Is it not stupid, wrong and darn right un-British?
It was an Englishwoman, Evelyn Beatrice Hall, who first put pen to paper to say "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” – but apart from any liberal desire for free speech, expression or assembly the idea that a political march should be banned on the sole issue of financial cost is abhorrent in the extreme.
What price democracy? What price the right of anyone, even idiots, to say what they have to say? What happens the next time the unions want to march for an ‘alternative’ or students want to march against fees? Both of those demonstrations cost a huge amount of money to police and we saw fights on the street during both of them; perhaps the Taxpayers' Alliance should have applied to shut them down on the same grounds?
Sweeping views you despise under the carpet isn’t going to make them go away. You can challenge an idea, you can disprove an idea, but you can’t ban it and you can’t suppress it. We need to challenge the views of EDL members head on as we have with every other far right group in the last 100 years.
There will be concerns about ethnic tensions during such a march, I know, but that’s why we have a police force which oversees such marches. But surely it can’t be difficult to organise a much larger community led counter demonstration to show publicly that the so called English Defence league are, ignorant, racist thugs so far in the minority they’d likely be outnumbered by the Met, before ever reaching for the ill judged censor button.
The application to ban the EDL march also bans any others in the east end for a month – indeed Peter Tatchell has tweeted: “The proposed ban on the EDL march may also ban the anti EDL march and an upcoming East London Gay Pride” - I feel sorry for anyone who might have wished to make a political point next month. If I was a council leader in the area I’d use September to force through something deeply unpopular – after all, won’t it cost too much to police opposition?
Moves such as this don’t help to tackle extremist views or expose their proponents to counter argument and mockery, it simply encourages them. EDL members are a minority in a bubble who claim persecution by the establishment and blame ethnic minorities for problems which do not exist. Instead of publicly rebutting their claims, we’re expending energy curtailing freedoms. All that means is that when they say we are importing foreign laws and attitudes to political protest, their arguments will have bite.
I do wonder about the direction our country is heading in. Whilst efforts to ban social network sites during riots have been routed the battle to maintain human rights and the right to protest is still very much on. I am uneasy that so many would so casually disregard the things which make this country free, great and indeed British.
If you say you believe in freedom of expression but don’t allow it for those with whom you disagree, however vehemently, or however assured you are in your reasoning, you don’t believe in freedom of expression at all. If you’re reading this, and you’re one of those people, take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself what sort of country you want to live in – Great Britain with her traditions of universal liberty – or some soviet people’s republic where who gets rights and who’s allowed to protest is decided by the state.
I’m having difficulty seperating the two these days.
Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register.