Woolwich, unity and the far-right

On Thursday morning, people woke to the images of a bloodied man and his victim being broadcast all over the world. Watching these events unfold in Woolwich on Wednesday afternoon, I was shocked and horrified. Social media was used to send out the rallying cry for fascists and racists, calling for violence and whipping up hatred for the Muslim community. All of this was because this was ‘time to take our country back’.

‘Back from where?’ was my first thought when I saw that line on the internet. As a proud British Asian, the UK is my home, I was born here and I identify with it as much as the next person. I believe we are stronger when we are united, which is why the reaction to the events in Woolwich worry me. Seeing the pictures of the 100 or so EDL activists out on the streets throwing bottles is a clear and conscious attempt to divide our community and whip up hated for the Muslim community. The day after the attack, Nick Griffin called for a BNP demo in Woolwich further seeking to play on the tensions that are already running high in the area.

The EDL and the BNP don’t speak for me and they are no more representative of the wider British society than one man shouting, and killing in the name of Islam is of the Muslim community. Over the coming days and months, the far right will continue to ensure they capitalise on this moment and evidence from America shows that in the first week after incidents such as the Woolwich attack, crimes against minority communities increases. It’s vital therefore, that we stand united against all forms of racism and fascism. I know that the London I love is capable of doing this just as we stood united in the aftermath of the July 2005 attack.

There will come a time to explore how and why the horrific events of yesterday were able to happen but now isn’t that time. Until then, my thoughts are with Drummer Lee Rigby’s family and friends.

The real threat of the far-right in Europe

Many people were shocked to see the video of a far right politician assaulting two fellow politicians in Greece last week.

Golden Dawn’s Ilias Kasidiaris physically assaulted Liana Kanelli of the KKE (Greek Communist Party) and threw water over Syriza’s Rena Dourou on national television last Thursday morning. Shocking? Yes. Surprising? Probably not.

When considering the actions of other Golden Dawn members; from the openly racist street violence of a 350-strong mob attacking migrants in Patras, to the hospitalisation of an Egyptian fisherman by suspected Golden Dawn members, and the most recent threat to raid hospitals and kindergartens to expel immigrants and their children, it doesn’t seem that surprising. Kasidiaris himself is currently being accused of being an accomplice to the mugging of a student.

Golden Dawn is a threat to Greek society on the streets and at the ballot box. The parliamentary elections in Greece at the beginning of May saw Golden Dawn take 21 seats. Even if they lose seats, their thugs on the street have been emboldened.

A rise in the support of far right parties is not confined to Greece: the mainstreaming of the Front National in France over the past decade is a concern for all progressives.

The first round of the parliamentary elections in France saw a result of approximately 47% for the left combining Socialists, Greens and Front de Gauche and 49% on the right including Sarkozy’s Union Popular Movement (UMP) and the Front National.

Whilst it is reassuring to see an increase in support for the broad left in France and the recent loss of the incumbent Sarkozy in the presidential election, those that are lauding a ‘left victory’ risk overlooking a key point: 14% is a very worrying amount of support for a fascist party. If the British National Party were to garner this kind of support in Britain, Labour Party members would rightly be appalled.

The politics of the far right needs a political response from all those fighting for a fairer and more just society. The fascists of Golden Dawn, FN and the BNP will only be defeated by an alliance of all those that oppose racism and fascism. It is disappointing to see that the UMP will not form a temporary alliance with the French Socialist Party to block out the Front National in the second round of the French parliamentary elections.

It is not unusual for European Conservatives to make concessions to a racist agenda. Last year David Cameron stated that “multiculturalism has failed” on the same day the racist and Islamophobic English Defence League rampaged through Luton. This kind of statement only serves to legitimise the hatred of the EDL and strengthen their movement.

This May the EDL went back to Luton and I was really pleased to see local Labour politicians and trade unionists joining the “We are Luton” march co-organised by Unite Against Fascism. This march saw MPs Kelvin Hopkins and Gavin Shuker along with Richard Howitt MEP giving speeches in defence of the multiculturalism of Luton and against the divisive politics of the EDL.

When the racism and anti-immigration rhetoric of far right parties is left unchallenged, their support increases. We cannot have a situation in Britain where fascist parties break through into the electoral mainstream.

The Labour Party should condemn all forms of racism and promote our multicultural society – this means not only condemning racism on the streets from the English Defence League but opposing moves from Conservative politicians lining up to lead high profile attacks on issues such as immigration.

The overwhelming majority of British society is not racist, and is proud of the diverse society we live in. If the Labour Party responds to racist scapegoating with a positive and robust defence of the multiculturalism of British society, we will see a surge in public support.
These are the politics that will see the British National Party kicked out of the European Parliament in 2014, and the Labour Party returned to power in 2015.

 

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Labour should mobilise to stop the EDL

Last week we heard the welcome news that the march through Tower Hamlets by the racist English Defence League on 3rd September had been banned.

This was a victory for the grassroots campaign supported by local Labour MPs and councillors, both in Tower Hamlets and across London. Rushanara Ali rightly said, “The EDL is working hard to stir up racial and religious tensions in our community”, whilst Labour council leaders from across the capital put more pressure on the Home Office with their letter last week.

But the EDL still plan to come to Tower Hamlets.

EDL leader Stephen Lennon told BBC London “We’ll have a static demonstration and we’ll have our voices heard” whilst the EDL website says “they have banned our march but we will still have a static demo”. Past EDL demonstrations have seen Asian communities and their property attacked, while EDL slogans include ‘Burn the mosque’.

Given this attempt to intimidate London’s Muslim community, it is vital that the anti-racist demonstration against the EDL, celebrating the multicultural London we all love, is as large as possible.

When the EDL protested in Plymouth and Cambridge in July, the local Labour Party had a visible presence at the anti-racist event. Cambridge Labour Party and the universities Labour Club, led by Richard Howitt MEP, joined a large anti-racist march where they were warmly received at the local mosque.

At a mobilising meeting in Tower Hamlets last night, CWU General Secretary and vice-chair of Labour’s National Policy Forum, Billy Hayes, said “We need everyone out on Saturday, as many people as we can. We’ll be out in great numbers and we’ll push back the EDL on Saturday.”

I look forward to seeing lots of Labour Party members from across London turn out in huge numbers and show their solidarity with the people of the East End who are the target of the EDL’s hate.

The UAF and United East End anti-racist demo assembles on Saturday 3rd September at 11am at the corner of Vallance Road and Whitechapel Road, London E1 (nearest tube is Whitechapel – see a map).

See UAF for more details.

Aaron Kiely is a Labour councillor in Thurrock and sits on the NUS NEC