Wednesday, 15 February 2012
Partying with the English Defence League - a disturbing glimpse into the mind of the EDL rank-and-file
"I'm not racist but..." Can there be another phrase in the English language more likely to make anxious liberal buttocks clench in queasy anticipation? Sometimes The Golden Latrine pines for those Alf Garnett days when racists were at least upfront about their prejudice.
Current doyens of the "I'm not racist but" line are the English Defence League (EDL), who insist they are charming, warm-hearted folk who like flowers and kittens and just happen to be against the creeping "Islamisation" of Britain. Definitely not racist.
The far-right group are planning a national demonstration at the end of the month in Hyde, an economically-depressed market town most famous as the home of mass-murderer Dr. Shipman's surgery (although oddly the local council haven't used that on the town's website).
As is standard procedure with the EDL, they have attached themselves to a local cause, in this case the attack of a 17-year-old white teenager and his friend by a gang of asian youths in Hyde town centre (you can read the Manchester Evening New's report of the attack here).
The Facebook group for the march quickly began to scour the area for similiar cases and muse about how the police would ignore the racial element of the attack (in actuality, the police treated it as a 'hate crime' and charged the alleged perpetrator with a section 18 assault). Perhaps more troubling was the persistent need of one poster to capitalise the first letter of every word ("I'm Unsure, But The Divisions We Are In Will Not Stand By And Watch This Happening In The Streets That He Lives In, Another Reported Case Tonight!"), presumably to ratchet up the drama and make everything he said sound like a headline. Or maybe he's just not that bright.
But endlessly rehashing the EDL's shortcomings is boring, and instead I'd like instead to offer a disturbing glimpse into the mind of the rank-and-file by means of a personal anecdote.
The Golden Latrine casts his mind back to Halloween a couple of years ago. That day there happened to have been a large-scale demonstration by the EDL in Leeds city centre, matched by a counter-demonstration by Unite Against Fascism.
The plan was to nip downstairs to our neighbours' party for a drink or two, before heading to our friend's place. Now, at the neighbours' party there was an EDL member and a Unite Against Fascism member in attendance. Let's call the EDL member Dean (if there are any liberal-minded Deans reading, I do apologise, it just seems like a good solid racist name) and the UAF member Tarquin.
The meeting with Dean did not start auspiciously. After sampling my limp-wristed greeting, his first words to me were: "That's a poofter's handshake". Never one to shirk a challenge, I decided to give him the eyes. Since it was Halloween, I had white facepaint on, with kohl eyes and ruby red lips. I tried explaining to Dean that it was Halloween make-up, but it did not compute. Squinting with the effort, metaphorical steam billowing from his ears, his continued response was: "To me, make-up is gay".
Now, I can honestly say that Dean was one of the least intelligent people I've ever met in my life. If most peoples' brains are Pentium processors, his was a plastic Fisher Price toy computer. But talking to him outside, he seemed far more confused than nasty. He'd clearly been well-schooled in the rhetoric of the Islamisation of Britain, although when I asked him to give me an example of this Islamisation, his only suggestion was that a Muslim on his estate had tried to convert him. I pointed out that a Christian had handed me some reading material earlier that day.
But here's the rub. While Dean was woefully undereducated, UAF's Tarquin was, if anything, much more of an idiot. Despite being university educated, his major complaint about the protest that day was how disappointed he was that the police had put the kibosh on any hope of a running street battle between the two groups. Which was a joke, because he was a skinny wisp of student and the fascists would have ripped him to pieces like a strongman with a phonebook.
At this point in the night, things began to go a little awry. My friend, a maths PhD student with a machine-like brain then pointed out, Spock-like, the flaw in Tarquin's logic. If Tarquin wanted to fight fascists, well, there was one right over the other side of the room. You know, the guy he'd just been chatting to and joking with for twenty minutes. His self-righteousness questionned, Tarquin confronted Dean and launched into a giant tirade about how ashamed Winston Churchill would have been of him.
A giant bust-up ensued in which Dean was, if anything, extremely restrained. As we left, Dean shook my hand and explained to me, with a sad frustrated face, that he was "basically just a very violent person". You had to admire his honesty, and we took that as our our cue to stagger off into the night.
EDIT: The family of Daniel Stringer, the assaulted teenager, have made quite clear that they did not invite the EDL to Hyde.
The Golden Latrine would also like to make clear that he is in no way implying that UAF are comparable to the EDL. This piece simply happens to shine a spotlight on the youthful stupidity of one UAF member.