Saturday, 24 April 2010

EDL Aylesbury: The Wingnut dilemma

In a week’s time, the English Defence League are coming to Aylesbury. For transatlantic readers, EDL is a protest movement against all things foreign and especially Islamic; a group who got chucked out of the far right BNP, for being too p’nutty. Now they’re heading for Aylesbury, of all places, on May Day.

We all enjoy some basic freedoms in this country.
  1. People should be free to get together with their friends, demonstrate and express their points of view, pretty much whatever they may be. That’s a basic freedom. It includes freedom to express contrarian points of view, even to sow fear, and aggravate dissension up to a point. But push it to the nth degree, and this freedom compromises other freedoms.

  2. People should be free to get on with their lives, conduct their businesses, enjoy their leisure on a bank holiday weekend, without their streets being hijacked by demonstrators.

  3. People should be free to be themselves safely in a country that has been diverse since the Bronze Age, subject to wave after wave of immigration and settlement, with corresponding interaction and synthesis. That is the basis of the Eglish language and culture that has, historically, thrived on its capacity to interact, adopt, adapt, modulate freely.

  4. People should be free to live in a law-abiding, stable, democracy, which works out differences together, not by setting people against their neighbours. If you want to change things, you know where the ballot box is. All you have to do is persuade others you are right, and off you go. If, however, you can’t persuade them, bully boy tactics are no substitute.
So there’s a balance of freedoms — the freedom of an astroturf organisation to coach in busloads of political chums has to be balanced against the freedom of people to get on with their lives, and their neighbours, in peace.

Here’s the rub. In a basically tolerant, peaceful town, what do you do about roving right wing nuttery? You could organise a left wing demonstraton — fight fire with fire. I could imagine circumstances where that could be necessary. Racism, ignorance and rampant prejudice are obscene, and rightly provoke passionate opposition. I’m happy to sign up to anything that makes that basic point. The fact is, the vast majority of people in Aylesbury are tolerant and law-abiding. That’s a very important part of what it means to be English for them. We know we’ve got our share of social problems, but these are best worked through and sorted between the people concerned as neighbours, not by bussing in extremists for a day out.

Therefore, after carefully and sympathetically considering options with community and faith leaders, under pressure to face down a right wing demo by what’s bound to end up a left wing demo, I can understand why people want to react like this, but I’m just not persuaded. Doing this is more likely to feed EDL’s hunger for significance, than to achieve anything positive here on this occasion. In collaboration with the Mayor of Aylesbury, I released this statement yesterday through AVDC:

Aylesbury is a peaceful, law-abiding town. Anything that turns it into a set for factional posing, left or right, is not helpful. Racist organisations don’t deserve the oxygen of publicity. The best way for people to stand up to racism is to show there’s a better way to live, by staying calm and getting on with their lives in mutual respect

The best traditions of our country include the Christian values of living in harmony, doing as we would be done by, loving our neighbour as ourselves. Whatever our neighbours’ race, religion or culture, we respect them and want them to have the same freedom to be themselves that we all enjoy.

That's why I support our town mayor’s call for people not to join any outsider-organised demonstrations on 1 May, and for outside activists please to leave us alone to get on with our life in peace.

The Town Mayor, Ranjula Tandokra’s, statement (the call I’m supporting) goes thus:
It is my opinion that Aylesbury has a peace loving community and on the 1 May, with most the shops and places of entertainment closed for the afternoon, it would be more profitable for Aylesbury residents to spend their time at home with their families and friends.

The fewer people there are in the town centre when the English Defence League hold their meeting, or for any other form of demonstration, the less likely it is that there will be any disruption to the life of the town.The best way to show the EDL that we do not support them is to avoid showing them any form of attention including any opposition event on the same day.

Let us celebrate our fun, friendly, peace loving multicultural society and united Town by letting them arrive, have their speeches and then depart peacefully. This will give Aylesbury the opportunity to celebrate our multicultural community at a time that suits us and on our own terms without provocation or threats.

14 comments:

The Grumpy Cleric said...

A good post.
E.D.L. or "B.N.P. Lite" do have the right to protest but don't have the right to intimidate, obstruct or harass other people.

(I have heard that E.D.L. has tried to start up a Scottish sister group & basically failed!)

Stuart said...

Totally agree with your approach.

If we are not careful, the public and media can end up stoking the fire and facilitating further coverage and exposure for small extremist groups, as happened recently during the UK4ISLAM Wootton Bassett affair.

If these publicity stunts are ignored, then they will simply evolve into a small protest between extremist groups akin to rival football fans fighting it out.

Whipping up a 'moral panic' about small unrepresentative extremist groups is counter-productive at best and plays into their hands.

Fr David Cloake said...

So much hate wrapped up in a foil coating of love, it seems to me. As the Curate of the Parish Church closest to the 'action', I have been privy to some of the machinations. It is a bewildering time for some, and rightly. However, there are those who will not let this get to them - it is the 'Aylesbury Way'. The people of my beloved town and parish are resilient, they see through the charade that so many factions present when wanting their part in the scrap! What was it that went around cyberspace a while back?

'We are not afraid'

We will lend them our Market Square and we let them get on and make their points. Then they can go home and we will do what we do best ... we will get on with life wihout them, and we will cope!

Anonymous said...

i wonder if you all walk around with your eyes closed. the edl is protesting against extreme muslims, something that people in aylesbury , luton etc live with. if you bothered to look at previous protests it is infact the uaf causing problems and stirring up racial problems , and trying to stop peoples freedom of speach , why do you not comment on the uaf thugs and about the trouble they will bring to aylesbury. it seems to me you pander to the left and see life through rose tinted glasses , i have lived in both aylesbury and luton aswell as other areas in the home county's and find it bewildering how people continue to say these towns muslims have integrated well , it is just pure lies

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Anon, I hold out no brief for any thugs. Very few people who live in Aylesbury see things the way you do, or EDL would not have to bus them in from all over the country etc. People have a right to free speech, but there is a cost paid by local residents and businesses.

I'm not publishing any other anonymous comments on this page. If you don't think your views are worth putting your own name to, they're probably not worth me publishing.

Leicester said...

I don't agree at all. When the EDL were left unopposed, first in Luton and then in Stoke early this year, they embarked on what was effectively a pogrom against muslims through Asian areas. They would have done this in Bolton and Birmingham also if it hadn't been for the large anti-fascist presence. If we don't confront these thugs in this way they will grow in confidence and stature.

Graham said...

Thank you for a thoughtful consideration of many of the issues arising from the EDL protest planned for Saturday.

I had hoped for an opportunity for people of good will, including people from different faith communities, to stand together and make clear our respect and support for each other.

But even when 'we' do try to come together, the occasion can be hijacked by people with another agenda altogether. For me, the marches in 2003 against the invasion of Iraq were a case in point. It was good to be acting together, less good to hear on subsequent news bulletins assumptions that high profile people such as George Galloway were speaking on behalf of marchers as a whole.

On Saturday (1st May) some of us hope to be able to take part in a vigil for peace and reconciliation in Aylesbury. It will take place at the Friends Meeting House (9 Rickfords Hill) between 12 noon and 1pm.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Leicester, the question isn't whether to oppose people who dress up as seventies terrorists to express fear and sow discord, but how. This demonstration exposes the people being bussed in from all over the country for what they are — zealots and fools. I've heard much annoyance from all sections of the community this week about EDL, from families unable to enjoy a holiday weekend, to some of our local small traders on market day, decent people who face losses of thousands of pounds of livelihood through EDL's day out. Someone said to me on Wednesday "what gives a bunch of bigots the right to ruin my business?" Good question.

Indulging their fantasy about warfare on the streets (or anywhere else) isn't helpful. And as a Christian leader I have to point out it is unChristian and, actually, unIslamic behaviour. If anyone threatens people and damages property that is a primarily a matter for the police, not vigilantes.

Leicester said...

I'm sorry but I don't agree at all. What message is sent out if, say, the EDL go un-opposed on their demos - that people can march through the streets persecuting minority groups and no one disagrees with them strongly enough to show publicly their opposition. Nazi Germany started with racist marches similar to the ones being organised by the EDL. as English philosopher Edmund Burke said, 'The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing'. Staying at home with your head in the sand is like digging your own grave.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Well, yes. [Byline, Sylesbury town centre Saturday] They aren't going through streets persecuting anyone — just trudging through the streets looking silly. The clear sense in Aylesbury this Saturday morning is people pretty fed up with a minority group of fairly angry wingnuts hijacking our town on May Bank Holiday weekend and costing us hundreds of thousands of pounds, not to mention the damage they have done to innocent local traders. They're not seen as defending anyone — just expressing their own wingnut point of view. Aylesbury can take it, and when they're all gone we will pick up the pieces and pay the bills. It would be fairer to bill the EDF, though.

coady said...

IF THE B.N.P DONE SO BAD IN THE ELECTION WHYIS EVERYONE SO AFFRAID OF THEM, IS IT THE TRUTH MAYBE?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Coady, dear bloke, please remember this isn't the BNP, but the EDF who got chucked out of the BNP for being too p'nutty. People don't like fascist parties because in the last century they came to power in parts of Europe and 30 million people got killed. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but it wasn't.

Revd John P Richardson said...

Why is it that Christians say, "Love your enemy" is their distinctive moral viewpoint, but when they find a real sinner (ie someone they themselves think is bad) they react just like everyone else?

Would Jesus oppose the BNP/EDL or might he recruit one like he recruited Simon the Zealot?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

John, thanks for introducing a key dimension to this. My apologies for being away from the computer for a week, and thus unable to publish your question in a more timely way.

I'd want to go a bit further, perhaps, and ask how Jesus (who is alive) is recruiting people like Simon the Zealot today. I don't think someone who holds extreme political views is a real sinner to any greater degree than the rest of us.

There is a paticular dimension to this question, however, because the EDL make extensive use of Christian symbolism for their views. What did Jesus do with zealotry? I don't think he did simply collude with it, but saw the person behind the political position. As his body on earth now, that's what we have to try and do, but we have to work out how with each individual.

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