There are reports in the press that a thousand supporters of group known as the “English Defense League” held protests in Leicester, so who exactly are they? … Basically its a merger of football hooligans, far-right activists and pub racists, in other words what we have here is BNP the next generation. And what exactly do they get up to? Here is a taster …
- 40 EDL followers protested for three days outside a KFC restaurant in Blackburn which was trialling halal meat
- 30 EDL followers in Gateshead held an impromptu demonstration outside a police station after six of their friends were arrested for burning the Qur’an
- There are also reports that they physically attacked a leftwing meeting in Newcastle on the anniversary of 9/11
There are plenty of reasons to be critical of various belief systems, especially Islam, but there is also a line that you do not cross if society is to function.
Yes, I do believe in freedom of speech, and am quite happy for anybody to say whatever they wish, but they also need to expect to receive an appropriately robust reply. For example, I’m quite happy to declare that there is no God and so I feel that anybody who seriously believes that there really is a supernatural being who passionately cares for their well-being is quite frankly nuts. However, I would also expect believers to robustly challenge and debate that. I will not be down outside some local church protesting and telling them what to think, nor do I expect believers to hold a protest outside my house calling into question my participation in society simply because the majority believe in God and I don’t. Both instances would be crossing the line of toleration that enables society to function.
Thats the key, they are not being tolerant of others. A second basic freedom is the concept of freedom of thought. If some wish to believe in fairies (some out there really do) then best of luck to them. To label them nuts, to speak out and call their beliefs bullshit is fine, but to hold a protest about their very existence is wrong. Getting into the game of dictating to people what to think and what not to think is not a place we should ever go. This of course cuts both ways, telling believers what they can and cannot believe is not appropriate, but also believers do not have the right to impose their beliefs on others and so when they do need to be robustly challenged.
Not quite sure what I’m on about? OK try this. I work with some nice folks, some of whom are devoted Hindu believers. The implication of that is that some are, for religious reasons, vegetarians. If we should happen to order a snack during a team meeting, the fact that some of us order sausage rolls is not an issue for them, not is the fact that they ask for the veggie-sausage option a big deal for me. If fact, nobody gives a toss either way, diversity of thought is respected, its second nature to most. If however we had some EDL nutter on the team, then I suspect we might see some form of protest.
So what if KFC sells halal meat, you don’t have to buy it, you don’t even have to cross their door. If you don’t like the fact that they sell halal meat, go to Burger-king next door, its no big deal.
But what is really going on here? The EDL is providing a focus for some in an increasingly complex and alienating world, and so they truly believe they are “defending” Britain against the threat of Islam. But what makes this dangerous is how it reflects a wider political and cultural trend across western Europe. Many rightwing populist parties are achieving huge electoral success on an anti-Islam ticket. In many ways its understandable, an intolerant belief systems (think stoning, suicide bombers, and death threats against cartoonists) has now given birth to an intolerant political response. Neither is appropriate, both need to learn toleration.
Over in the US we have the emergence of the religious right Tea Party movement, and now we have this same US movement pouring money into western Europe to fight secular liberalism. There are reports that the EDL and the Tea Party have developed close ties and there appears to be a push going on for a UK version of the Tea party. Alan Lake, a 45-year-old businessman from Highgate, is apparently giving guidance to the EDL and pushing them in the direction of establishing themselves as the UK version of the Tea Party.
Whenever faced with folks who attempt to tell others what to do, what to think and how to dress … be skeptical.