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They shall not pass! All out to stop the EDL in Tower Hamlets, 3 September

And they say they're "not Nazis" - EDL'ers in Nazi salute / callumhornigold.wordpress.com

The fascist English Defence League (EDL) is marching through Tower Hamlets on 3 September. Richard Brenner argues that we need to remember the lessons of Cable Street, when anti-fascists drove the far right off the streets of East London, and challenge the anti-Muslim lies they are feeding off.

From all over Britain, enemies of racism and hatred will be joining local residents in a determined effort to stop them. Coaches are being planned from across the UK.

Just weeks after anti-Muslim extremist Anders Brevik murdered 76 people in Norway, EDL plans to bring street violence to Tower Hamlets, one of London’s poorest boroughs, where they aim to harass and intimidate the area’s Muslim community.

The EDL say they had nothing to do with Brevik, but he was in repeated contact with them and was known to many of their activists because they share the same vicious hatred of Muslims and all those who stand up against racism.

The EDL hope to capitalise on Brevik’s mass murder, with their football hooligan leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon telling Newsnight that the mythical “Islamic threat to Europe” made it “inevitable” that a terror attack like this would happen.

This is like blaming Jews for the Holocaust or women for the Yorkshire Ripper murders – yet the EDL can draw comfort from the sickening fact that mainstream right-wing politicians and newspaper columnists are making the same point all over Europe, Britain and the USA.

All the more reason to stand up to the EDL now.

Their planned march takes place on the 75th anniversary of another great anti-fascist protest: the Battle of Cable Street, in Whitechapel, Tower Hamlets, in 1936.

Then the local working class – Jewish migrants, dockers, communists, union and Labour Party members – united in action to defeat Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, driving them off the streets despite the attempts of huge numbers of police to protect Mosley’s Blackshirts.

We should be under no illusions: the methods of Cable Street will be needed to beat the EDL, and anyone who protects them. And history shows that when the people are behind us, we can win.

 

They shall not pass

Tower Hamlets is one of the poorest boroughs in London. With more than 200,000 residents, 54 percent are white and more than 30 percent of Bangladeshi origin. It is this large Muslim minority that the EDL hates. Their march is an attempt to divide the local highly multiracial working class, at a time when local trade unions have been fighting back against the cuts, with strikes at Tower Hamlets College and with schools and civil servants taking action on 30 June.

The local community is overwhelmingly opposed to the march. More than 600 people met to express outrage at the provocation last week at the London Muslim Centre in Whitechapel.

In an example of inclusion and tolerance that confounds the lies of the EDL and other more mainstream Muslim-baiters, speakers addressing the meeting included not just Muslim organisations but Jews, socialists and LGBT activists.

Max Levitas, a veteran of the Battle of cable Street, won huge cheers when he told the meeting: “The fascists will never march through this area – but it won’t be done by talking about it. We’ve got to take action…”

As in 1936, a multicultural working class in the area is more than able to confront the EDL – if we can learn the lessons of Cable Street and implement them. It’s no good begging the government and the police to protect us – they are the ones who will protect the fascists, giving legitimacy to their lies and shielding their thugs with a thick blue line of police.

That’s why our slogan must be, as it was then, “THEY SHALL NOT PASS”. Enforcing that means preparing organised defence of the streets and of the counter-demo: an Anti-Fascist Defence League trained and ready to stop them in their tracks.

 

State ban not the way

Faced with the EDL’s shocking provocation, the cry has gone up for the Home Secretary Teresa May to ban their march.

While this is completely understandable, it is a mistake that plays into the hands of the right.

Tories like David Cameron and Teresa May will only ban fascist marches if they think it will help them suppress and demobilise mass antiracist action on the streets. We should not support the police exercising ever greater powers to repress marches – because if they do it in Tower Hamlets in September, they’ll be doing it to workers’ protests against cuts in October, November and into next year too.

Again, the lessons of Cable Street are clear. The National Government of the day – another Tory-led Coalition – brought in the Public Order Act 1936 ostensibly against Mosely’s fascists. But it was used against the working class and the left.

The Act banned organising, training or equipping an “association of persons … for the purpose of enabling them to be employed in usurping the functions of the police or of the armed forces of the Crown,” or “for the use or display of physical force in promoting any political object.”

It was used against pickets during the 1984/5 miner’s strike to “prevent a breach of the peace.”

 

Answer the anti-Muslim lies

The background to the EDL’s growth is the huge rise in Islamophobia – the noxious brew of lies and distortions being spread by politicians and papers to make people fear and hate Muslims.

Even many people who oppose the EDL have nevertheless fallen victim to these lies, which are spread by all the tabloids – not just the discredited Murdoch press – and go seemingly unanswered day in day out.

The Islamophobes say there is a threat of the ‘Islamisation of Europe’ – a groundless myth almost identical to the fascists’ claim in the 30s that the Jews were ‘taking over’.

They single out Islam for its opposition to homosexuality and women’s liberation, whilst ignoring the same attitudes when raised by almost every other world religion.

They rail against the ‘spread’ of Sharia law – but ignore the fact that Sharia can only be used in religious courts where both parties agree to it and only in specific cases…and that Jews have had similar religious courts in the UK for centuries.

Some say the campaign against Muslims is ‘not racist’ because they are targeting ‘backward ideas’. But this is just a cover, and a wafer thin one at that. Singling out a religious minority and making them scapegoats for society’s problems is not exactly new in Europe. The campaign against the Muslims today is just like the campaign against the Jews in the 1930s, and is taking place under very similar conditions: an economic crisis, growing despair and a ruling class desperate to point the finger at someone, anyone, rather than take the blame themselves for the crisis they caused.

It is especially unacceptable when Labour MPs and senior figures funded by the unions back these ideas. They should be confronted and all funding for them cut off unless they stop and renounce these evil views. Former Labour Home Secretary Jack Straw should have been denounced and forced to apologise when he claimed to feel ‘threatened’ by women in veils. While our unions fund Labour to the tune of millions, we must demand that every Labour figure pledges to stop giving credence to the lies that divide us, stop encouraging the vicious thugs of the EDL.

The spread of these lies is like ground bait for fascism, creating an environment in which the EDL’s ideas can seem like common sense to thousands, especially the more ignorant sections of the lower middle class and unemployed youth who are enraged by the economic crisis and can be rallied to action against a scapegoat.

That is why it is crucial for socialists and trade unionists to answer the lies of the Islamophobes – and to offer an alternative. Not to ‘celebrate our culture’ – a culture of racism and cuts and oppression – but to fight the real cause of suffering and division, the capitalist bankers and bosses who caused the crisis.

 

 

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