Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Protests too much

Anti-fascists need to protest less and focus more on taking on the BNP’s flawed ideology

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Last weekend the BNP’s annual shindig ‘Red, White and Blue’ took place in a small town in Derbyshire. Reports said that the number of attendees was only marginally more than the number of anti-fascist protesters who congregated outside the gate. Unfortunately, these anti-BNP protesters soon became violent – leading to a total of 19 protesters being arrested. Although it is good to see ordinary people protesting against the BNP, such protests become ineffective when they descend into thuggery and hooliganism. Just a week earlier, for example, violent clashes erupted between the English Defence League and Unite Against Fascism in Birmingham, leading to bottles, sticks and banners thrown, and brought police in riot gear onto the streets. This ended up actually boosting the BNP after the Daily Mail and other papers ran full-page pictures of Asian youths attacking white protesters.

Violence is not the answer to countering the BNP. The BNP is best opposed through a systematic deconstruction of their slurs against ethnic and religious minorities. In a paper entitled In Defence of British Muslims: A response to BNP racist propaganda [pdf], I aimed to do just that. Since about 2006, particularly post-7/7, the BNP has consciously changed their rhetoric from being anti-Asian, -Black and -Jewish, to being ardently anti-Muslim. Released last week, the paper takes 10 of the key accusations thrown against Islam and British Muslims by the BNP, and points out their intellectual inconsistencies and factual weaknesses. Rather than simply dismissing the BNP’s ideology as racist or bigoted (an approach which the BNP’s steady popularity proves is not working), there needs to be a greater focus on intellectually undermining and countering their arguments.

This is not particularly taxing. Griffin’s broad argument is that Islam is an ‘efficient imperialistic machine’ with a ‘conscious and deliberate plan’ to take-over, Islamify and install an Islamic state in Europe. Such arguments are easily undermined using proper statistics, and historical and textual evidence. For example, given that Muslims constitute roughly 3.3% of Britain’s entire population (according to government estimates in 2008) it seems somewhat unlikely that the UK is going to witness an Islamic takeover. Without directly countering these arguments we risk these ideas taking root in segments of British society that already feel abandoned by politicians and mainstream society.

This intellectual battle needs to take place at all levels of society. In terms of the specific allegations against Islam, this needs to be done by the Muslim communities themselves, as well as by the British politicians who claim to represent them. The British MEPs’ recent shunning of Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons in the European Parliament is certainly a step in the right direction, but we also need a simultaneous breakdown of their arguments. Nick Clegg’s description of the BNP as ‘a party of thugs’ or David Cameron’s statement that he was ‘sickened’ by their EU election success will not alone persuade people not to vote BNP.

This is why I welcomed the contribution by representatives of each of the three main political parties in the foreword to this paper: a united political front intellectually ousting the BNP from the mainstream politics of this country. Jon Cruddas, Labour MP for Dagenham, wrote that ‘the political class has recoiled in shock and indignation following the BNP’s recent electoral successes, yet has failed to confront the way they demonise British Muslims … Because of this vacuum the BNP have been able to focus on an extremist Islamism as being representative of the views of all Muslims.’ It is time that British politicians, the Muslim communities and British society at large start responding more thoughtfully to the racist propaganda of the BNP or else face terrifying (and increasingly violent) consequences.

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Lucy James

is a research fellow at Quilliam

3 comments

  • So it is a merely flawed ideology that the BNP proclaims (like Gordon’s British jobs for British workers, b ut less…..tactful….!?)>! Well I can see why LP loyalists would take this ….nuanced…view. after all, they claim, any Muslim who logically repudiates secular and other forms of democracy – the worship of the State/people rather than of God – is on the way to extremism, if not well into it. Proof? look at Bill Rammell’s McCarthyite rubbish when he was Minister for the persecution of Muslim Students…..and staff who don’t grass them up…..
    Actually, James’statistics do not refute, or even rebut, Griffin’s claim. Islam is a serious, proselytising, monotheistic religion, and hence totalitarian, ideology. There are only some 3% Muslims in the British population…so? there were far more Catholics in the 1860s, many within or immediate immigrants from an island where the Britiish troops committed systematic atrocities….
    Let us look back 140 years to the First Vatican Congress, when his Holiness Pius IX proclaimed anathema on Protestantism, Liberalism and Secularism. Such (Catholicizing) Liberals as Gladstone did not proclaim a jihad/crusade against ‘extremists’ of that faith. They, in dialogue with Do”llinger, Manning, Acton and – timidly – Newman – discussed the potential damage to secular loyalty done by the Vatican decrees. For my money, Manning arguing a case similar to that of Khomeini had the better of the argument.
    The loutish repression conducted by witchfinders such as Rammell and the “anti” fascist thugs of the “ANL” simply show the politicla and ideological weakness of NationalSocialist state liberalism.
    Mill and Gladstone eventually agreed – Britain has her constancy – as eternal as that of Rome – central to which was freedom of speech and of thought. Alas, our totalitarian government and activists show that this eternity was an illusion.
    The cause of the rights of the Islamists, not just of Muslims, is the prime cause for freedom in the UK, just as the rights of the Taliban, perforce committed to constructing a nation as the least worst alternative to A nlgoAmerican imperial dominance, is the prome cause for freedom in the world at large. British squaddies’ lives are being criminally wasted by the purssuers of Bush’s war of vengeance.
    British troops out of Afghanistan and all home to the UK.

  • I was at the Codnor Protest on Saturday 15th and would like to make the following observations in response to your piece:

    1. There were actually CONSIDERABLY more anti-facists than BNP members at the festival. The BBC estimated us to be 1500, I would suggest there were even more.

    2. Some of the 19 arrests were BNP supporters- I saw at least one taken off by the police in front of me.

    3. Whilst I can’t comment on the other parts of the protest, where I was (attempting to block one end of the lane to the festival site), there was ABSOLUTELY NO violence, except by the police who physically forced us off the road. We chatted and joked with some of the police whilst we were being “kettled” by the side of the road.

    Whilst I agree we need to engage with the BNP’s arguments in a rational way, and I found Ms James’ report very enlightening, the protest was about showing the world that there are more of us than them. Direct action is an important tool in our armour.

  • I fully agree with views put forward in Lucy James’s paper. The BNP’s desire is to provoke violence, they feed
    on the adverse publicity which the media gives to the violent behaviour of a minority from the Anti Fascist brigade.

    Whether we like it or not there are many who subscribe to the right wing view, who believe. with Griffin et al that, that the existence of any form of Muslim group in our society poses a major threat to our way of life. To overcome these prejudices the Muslim society should take the lead in promoting local activities, to show people that there are no threats, that the media hype is exactly what it is.

    A muslim friend of mine said to me not long ago “that the English are a remarkably tolerant race” We need to tap into that tolerance, not by quoting statistics or by producing learned paper or by confronting the BNP but by encouraging day to day interaction between Muslim and non Muslims

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