Despite and in the face of the ban on marches, the English Defence League took its circus tour of provincial high streets to the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Symbolism abounded – the East End has dealt with this sort of thing before.
The EDL have always had a lot of explaining to do – what they believe, and why, and how they would progress from slogans to action. Their ‘manifesto’, such as they have one, drips with hatred, fear, prejudice and ignorance, handicapped by paranoia. At the start of this year, the group was viewed as the knuckle-dragging wing of the British National Party, to be viewed with distrust and disquiet, protested against, though not given much more attention. National Front, British National Party, English Defence League – eventually, history tells us, all the far-right groups fail. The explanations which are presented crack and fissure under the weight of mis-explanations, omitted details and spin.
And then July 2011 happened.
Anders Behring Breivik, an extremist Christian who had deep-seated distrust against Muslims specifically, immigration policy generally, left-wing policies in the round, massacred members of the political party he blamed for changing his country in ways he would not accept. His name is etched into history – the three words “Anders Behring Breivik” as a symbol of Norway’s darkest days in modern times.
We know the Breivik admired and supported far-right and racist groups across Europe and possibly further overseas. Links between Breivik and our own EDL are sketchy though those which exist utterly condemn the group and destroy their arguments about being “peaceful”. Breivik himself wrote about meeting EDL members; he spoke on their messageboards, he met members in person. His much quoted statement, taken from his manifesto reads:
“I used to have more than 600 EDL members as Facebook friends and have spoken with tens of EDL members and leaders. In fact; I was one of the individuals who supplied them with processed ideological material (including rhetorical strategies) in the very beginning.”
One infamous photograph of Breivik, amongst the thoroughly unsettling profile images that resemble perverse spoofs of L’Oreal adverts, shows him posing with a weapon ready for action. “This is how I will be remembered,” the photograph says. “This is my legacy.”
Such photographs are not exactly uncommon on-line. There are probably hundreds of thousands of images showing teenagers flexing their muscles in front of bathroom mirrors, women pouting in nightclubs, and housewives throttling their kittens.
The “posing with guns” imagery is common too, and can be traced to plenty of ”wannabe” headline providers from across the social and geographical classes. In the UK, the imagery always appears tinged with parody, mockery, as the consequence of our national attitude towards carrying guns makes showing off with them appear ludicrous, unreal. Running counter to this is the imagery from Northern Ireland, where for generations the violence and counter-violence developed into a cottage industry for photographers. Imagery from The Troubles appeared on television and newspapers with all the expected elements – balaclavas, pistols, flags, shotguns, military uniforms, portraits of the fallen and avenged. Attached together, these images and photographs developed into a lurid backdrop for the history of Britain – the running commentary by the armies formed by consequence and necessity.
Whatever your opinion on the specifics of Northern Ireland and its history, the images that conflict produced has provided blueprints for future generations who have the misguided assumption that they, too, can nominate themselves as guardians of their own self-confirmed truth. The EDL and its offshoots are misinformed if they believe they can form their own ‘army’, their own twisted form of ‘loyalism’ to a cause they were not invited to join. The images I remember from my youth, channel flicking through the news headlines, hearing my Dad complain about the “never ending” “problems” in Ireland (as he politely put it), these are the images which have convinced the far-right of 2011 that they represent a long-held British tradition of armed resistance and responsible vigilantism.
Simply put, supporters of the EDL are potential terrorist threats. Like Breivik, they believe only in armed resistance against an enemy – a target they have incorrectly identified and wrongly convicted, but an enemy to them all the same. Their nationalism is as extreme as that of Breivik – the use of Nordic and Gothic typography, their obsession with nationalist images, their subservience to a flag. And their hatred of political parties which they blame for the situation which exists only in their mind – “force feeding Halal meat”, as one EDL member told me in a messageboard; “forcing Islamic laws in Parliament” as another assured me was happening on the comments section to a newsstory. Obsessed, violent, angry, isolated, paranoid – the characteristics we are told must be looked out for, the “if you see anything suspicious” warnings on railway stations.
If we are to accept freedom of expression, as any democracy must, then we must remember that the rule of law exists to keep that freedom sacred and valued. We are told by the mainstream media, with suspicion and cynicism, that we must be aware of the ‘danger’ in immigration, the Muslim family down the road, the Mosque planning application, the use of Urdu in schools.
We should remember not to be ‘race blind’ to the terrorist characteristics of the self-appointed army of tracksuited, shaven haired nationalists, whose iconography, language and behaviour would ordinarily instigate tabloid campaigns and government action. The distinction with the BNP (which should not be banned, not least because they appear to be falling apart all by themselves) should be obvious.
We were told to be vigilant against possible acts of terror on British soil by Irish dissidents for generations. Our media asks us to treat Muslims as outsiders who could be priming bombs and suicide vests as we speak. But what of the EDL? Yes, they’re idiots and football hooligans and bored married men wanting to revisit their former youthful glories – but look at the images below, taken from Hope Not Hate’s collection, and wonder if the link between Anders Behring Breivik could turn into something more serious, more horrific.
If the threat exists whereby members of the EDL or their offshoots go from photographs to shooting spree, what steps do we take now? Against all terrorist threats on this island of ours, we have to be prepared.