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Monday, 21 February 2011

Why does David Cameron encourage the EDL?

Last Saturday, the English Defence League held a demonstration in Luton, an area with a large Muslim minority including many families of Bangladeshi origin. The EDL is an organisation led by racists and attracting racist thugs, many from the football terraces. It has filled a gap left by the decision of the British National Party to pursue its racist objectives through the electoral road. This has led the BNP to eschew street mobilisations for fear that the inevitable violence that follows will put off their potential voters.

The primary focus of the EDL’s hatred is the Muslim community. Their storm troopers yell anti-Muslim insults and carry placards with anti-Muslim slogans on their marches. It has been responsible for a lot of violence wherever they have mobilised. Racist attacks have increased, mosques attacked and they have even fought with the police when they have been kettled or moved on.

Last year they threatened to come to Tower Hamlets, ostensibly to protest against a conference being held by a Muslim organisation in the Troxy. The council, then led by Councillor Helal Abbas, unfortunately pressurised the Troxy to cancel the event, thereby capitulating to the prejudices of the EDL. Nonetheless there was an excellent and completely counter-demonstration which saw some 5,000 people from the local community march to the East London mosque and Altab Ali Park.

On Saturday in Luton, the EDL managed to bring together some 1,500 people from across Britain and other parts of Europe. That is 1,500 too many but it is important to note that this was a European wide mobilisation which had been built for months, with the EDL linking up with similar Muslim-hating organisations in Germany, Denmark, Holland and elsewhere. As such its organisers must be disappointed at the turnout.

Nonetheless it caused considerable disruption in Luton town centre with shops forced to close and lose business. There was also a very significant counter-demonstration, organised by Unite Against Fascism and local groups around some of the mosques. I took a number of activists who had been central to the counter-demonstration in Tower Hamlets down to Luton to support the community there and we were made very welcome. The counter-mobilisation was very disciplined, making it clear the EDL thugs and their message of hatred and division were not welcome in Luton or anywhere else.

In many ways more significant than the EDL march however was the speech last Saturday morning by Prime Minister David Cameron declaring “multiculturalism” to be dead. If the EDL was disappointed by the turnout for their march, they would have been very encouraged that Cameron seems to have accepted some of their ignorant, bigoted and prejudiced arguments.

The premises of Cameron’s argument seem to be that the “multiculturalism” is responsible for a separation between different communities which fosters suspicion and hatred and that it has created the circumstances in which extremism goes unchallenged and is even encouraged to grow. Both aspects of this argument are complete nonsense. Sadly the real motivation is to pander to the prejudices of the Conservative right wing and racist voters the Tories would like to woo back from the BNP.

Firstly “multiculturalism” does not encourage separation between communities. On the contrary, multiculturalism is about generating respect and mutual understanding between different cultures. That is why it is much more accurate to describe this process as One Society, Many Cultures.

Multiculturalism comes out of a challenge to the viewpoint associated originally with the philosophy of imperial conquest and colonialism. That view was that the West had a superior civilisation which the rest of the world, enveloped in ignorance and prejudice, need to be brought to it and imposed on it in order to bring progress. This was the justification for the slaughter of indigenous populations and their subjection to brutal colonial rule.

Now we witness something very similar with Western values being paraded as universal values which must be imposed through the bombing of civilians and through military invasion. Just how hypocritical this philosophy is can be seen from a swift glance at what has happened in Iraq and Afghanistan on the one hand and the propping up of the brutal Egyptian police state under the dictator Hosni Mubarak on the other.

This is not to deny that there are universal values on the basis of our common humanity which transcend cultural differences. But it is to say that Western leaders like David Cameron parading their own interests and prejudices as those universal values is cynical and hypocritical.

Take for example his claim that equality and democracy are core values of the British tradition. It is true that many British people, both Muslim and non-Muslim share these values. But they have not been shared for most of the long history of the British Isles by Britain’s rulers and frankly that remains the case today.

fter all, study after study has established that the spending cuts being carried out by this government will impact much more severely on the less well off, the disadvantaged and the vulnerable. The cuts will increase inequality which has anyway been increasing in this new era of globalisation over the last 30 years. Nor does this government have a mandate for these cuts. The Liberal Democrats went into the election and attracted votes on the basis of a commitment to oppose drastic and rapid spending cuts. Once elected though they have broken their promises, something I trust the voters will remember and punish them for the next time we get to vote, which sadly is some way off yet.

David Cameron leads a party which has always sought to limit democracy in this country and which represents the interests of the wealthiest in this this country. Caron himself was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, went to the most prestigious and expensive public schools and then the relatively exclusive Oxford University. So we in the Muslim community will take no lectures from this heir to the imperialist tradition on the issue of either democracy or equality.

Nor has multiculturalism in any way encouraged support for the politics of Al Qaeda and violent extremism. The fact is that the vast majority of Muslims in this country want nothing to do with the politics and philosophy of Al Qaeda. Those Muslim organisations that receive public money all counsel against this extremism.

Insofar as a tiny minority of British Muslims are duped into extremism, it is fuelled by the policies of successive governments, which have seen hundreds of thousands of Muslims killed in illegal and immoral wars and pro-Western Muslim dictators like Hosni Mubarak propped up by the West. But that is an issue which Cameron cannot address as he continues to support the British military involvement in Afghanistan.

As for resentment arising out of separation of communities, we need to understand two things. Firstly, the Muslim and other ethnic minority communities continue to suffer, sadly, from much everyday racism which leads the majority community to move away from areas where significant numbers of ethnic minority people move into and which deny members of ethnic minorities educational and career opportunities.

The Muslim community welcomes the possibility of people learning English but this government's spending cuts will reduce the possibility of English being learnt by older members of Britain's ethnic minorities. But these cuts have a far greater impact even than that. As support for the least well off is reduced, as employment and housing opportunitiesdecline, people become easily prone to those voices that say these problems are all a result of too many immigrants and so on.

Economic decline always sees a rise in racism for this reason. It has nothing to do with multiculturalism but everything to do with the cynical exploitation of ignorance in the face of inevitable difference.

The government now claims it will only fund those organisations which preach British values and a British identity. The fact is that no Muslim organisation in receipt of public funds encourages extremism and they all counsel against the politics of Al Qaeda. What the government really intends is that it will penalise any organisation which both celebrates difference on the basis of our common humanity and dares to tell a different history from that acceptable to right wing bigots.
We must expose and resist Cameron’s assault of the Muslim community and our desire to be a respected part of British society. If anyone needed confirmation of the moral bankruptcy of this awful government Cameron's speech is proof positive.