On Saturday 5th February, Luton witnessed the EDL (English Defence League) hold their largest and most successful demonstration. Due to my own naivety combined with unclear directions from the police I found myself stuck in the middle of the EDL whilst their speeches were taking place instead of the counter-demonstration held by UAF (Unite Against Fascism).
I’ve been thinking about what I wanted to could write in terms of being an Asian woman, activist, student, and journalist at the demo when it hit me: I don’t need to write about my entire experience of how I felt, where I went, you can simply ask me but for now I want to focus on the precise reasons I go to these demonstrations.
And it comes to this man right here: [Please watch the video].
“We don’t feel intimidated. We don’t feel terrorized“
He calls himself Ali. This man is the epitome of the simple values we need to fight h*tred spread by the likes of EDL. I felt huge amounts of respect for this guy for doing what no-one else had done but at the same time I felt sad that I was admired him so much for doing what I believed should be the norm. I mean ultimately he is a man going about business and that’s how it should be. Just live your life as you should. Don’t let anyone stop you. It really is that simple!
The thing that scared me the most about Saturday is that yes, the majority of people disagree with what the EDL are doing, but why are more members of the EDL willing to march and take to the streets than the people who oppose them?! They were in their thousands on Saturday yet only a few hundred at the counter demonstration?! Why are people prepared to fly out from the US and Europe to support them? And why was Luton a ghost-town on Saturday? Aside from activists and police, there was not a soul in sight! Every business had closed. Only 2 places were open: Mc Donalds (which had to have bouncers) and Ali’s restaurant.
It’s one thing for me to criticize the lack of counter-demonstrators, I understand that people are busy or do not agree with counter-demonstrations, but if they come to your town and are capable of instilling a fear that makes you afraid to leave your house, a fear that makes you close business, a fear that makes you board-up your windows, then there is no freedom! And there is nothing to stop them growing! It’s easy to say members of the EDL are just ignorant morons but when they turn a town like Luton into a ghost town, they have control. And that scares me.
What now for the EDL? Personally, I fear it will expand. Listening to some of the EDL’s speakers also concerned me. These people are indoctrinating with distortion to the same extent that was capable of creating a mandate that lead us into Iraq. Honestly, I probably could’ve found some credibility with what the speakers said had I not known better than to let the media’s distorted portrayal of Islam consume me. If a person is not Muslim, does not interact with Muslims, does not read further into Islam, the violent ‘radicalism’ they see in the news will form their entire perception of Islam as that is the only Islam they are exposed to. I’m not saying this is how all people function, but it seems as though this was the case. Ignorant as this is, another thing that struck me about the atmosphere was that these people were angry. Though some members of the EDL are merely ignorant fools who go to drink and cause trouble, the strength of h*tred and anger should never be underestimated. The EDL are becoming more recognized, appearing on newsnight. The fact that Saturdays demo was fairly peaceful (in comparison to other demonstrations) is a massive step forward for the EDL.
The EDL are being underestimated. They will use Cameron’s recent criticisms of multi-culturalism in their favour. People will listen. According to BBC News, Secretary of State William Hague said that “the Prime Minister’s speech should not be shelved because some people have chosen to march down a street”. The first thing that concerns me about this is that the EDL’s demonstration was not merely some people marching down a street. I mean forget the fascism for moment and just look at the fact that this has cost £800,000 to police! If someone like William Hague in a powerful position can dismiss the EDL so easily, what does it tell us? What does it mean for the people being persecuted? And then the people persecuted after that? I don’t genuinely believe that Cameron timed his speech to coincide with the EDL’s march. The timing was simply unwise suggesting perhaps that the administration did not recognize the EDL and its impact which leads me to my next question. Why isn’t this fascist organization being dealt with more seriously?
The next EDL demonstration planned for Saturday 19th March will take place in Birmingham. The full impact of the Luton demonstration will be revealed in terms of the groups progression. I just hope there will be a visible increase in the number of people who attend counter demonstrations.
Here is some extra footage I managed to capture of the EDL leaving Luton:
Chants include: “I h*te Muslim bombers”, “Muslim Paedo’s, off our streets”, “Muslim bombers, off our streets”, “Who’s streets, Our streets”.