A Meeting with the English Defence League

For Axess Magasin
Swedish version here

In 2009 I stood with a marvellous group called British Muslims for Secular Democracy at a demonstration in central London. We were protesting against a march by Islam4UK, a clerical fascist outfit that straddled the line between extremist politics and terrorism. I loved the young men and women for their courage in standing up for liberal values. “Laugh at the enemies of Islam,” they chanted. “Freedom of speech will rule the world.”

At that time the European left was in a terrible mess about how to oppose the religious right, a mess that continues to this day. In theory good liberals were against sexism, racism and homophobia. In practice, they failed to condemn radical Islamists, who were also sexists, racists and homophobes, because they feared becoming the targets of violence themselves or because they feared accusations of “Islamophobia” or some other form of political incorrectness.

The band of 20 young Muslims were on their own. No one would support them, apart from strange men carrying British flags, standing a few metres away. I recognised one as a former football hooligan I had met before. I went over to ask him what was going on, and learned that he and his friends were members of an organisation called the English Defence League. They were not neo-Nazis, they assured me. They supported women’s rights and gay rights. They just wanted to protest against radical Islamists whose supporters bombed London, and attacked the funeral processions of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fair enough, I thought, I’ve been expecting something like this for a while. If the European liberal mainstream abandons its principles and seeks to “engage” with theocrats, it must expect a reaction. For about an hour, I believed that English Defence League was better than the Islamists it opposed. But not for longer.

As the EDL plans visits to Scandinavia, Swedish readers should learn to see through its propaganda too. It claims not to be a neo-Nazi group, and strictly speaking what it says is true. The EDL does not have its origins in the Hitler cults. But that is the best that can be said for it. In Britain EDL members attack all Muslims because they are Muslims, and indeed anyone Muslim, Sikh, Hindu or atheist with a brown skin. At a rally at Aarhaus in Denmark, EDL supporters joined with men from Norway who told reporters that they agreed with Anders Brevik’s paranoid fantasies. The EDL remains a hooligan band that picks on anyone it sees as being in the ‘wrong’ team.

The best way to understand it is to listen to British liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims. They do not want to plant bombs, disrupt funerals or impose Sharia. They believe in the freedoms of Europe, and at some risk to themselves, are prepared to defend them. Not one of them has a good word to say about the EDL. If it was to march through their town, they would know that its members would target liberal Muslims as freely as any other kind of Muslim.

I learned the EDL’s true nature after the demonstration when I walked into a nearby bar with a young woman who was as British as anyone else in London that day. ‘You’re not welcome here,’ EDL members spat at a Muslim so integrated that she would walk into a pub with a casual acquaintance. ‘Fuck off back to Pakistan.’ If the EDL turns up in Sweden, I suggest that you descend to its level, and tell its members to “fuck off back to Britain because you’re not welcome here”.