Paramilitary violence in the Land of Hope and GloryTweet
Joined: Jan 2012Occupation: Studying History at University of YorkJack's Full Profile
You can judge a society by the strength of its paramilitaries. A morbid sign of national weakness is an abundance of well-populated movements of legitimised thugs patrolling the streets. Pride may be found in having a vast reserve of armed men to be called upon for political repression or macho posturing, but a prevalence of quasi-political hooliganism should embarrass any civilised nation.
After many years of inflaming the sentiments which have helped to create the English Defence League, spouting yellow journalism and conspiracy theories about immigration and Islam on many occasions, the Daily Mail earned some redemption in September 2011 when it publicised the appearance of revealing photographs of EDL members; previously, these photos had been consigned to anti-fascist blogs and obscure anti-EDL protest sites. In a damning article, the Mail won back some credibility by exposing the elements of the EDL which currently do not make it into the League’s own press releases. Members and supporters of the organisation are seen posing with various firearms, including rifles, shotguns, pistols, crossbows and an array of improvised weapons (Thank God for Douglas Hurd and the Firearms Act of 1988). At times, the poseurs appear comical, attempting to compensate for a lack of proper armaments with apparently homemade and replica guns. One particularly disturbing image features two balaclava-wearing members performing a salute with submachine guns, one of which is unmistakably an MP40. As any amateur World War II history buff or old-school Call of Duty player will recognise, that model was produced for and used by the Wehrmacht and the armed forces of the Axis powers. The symbolism of an EDL member brandishing this weapon specifically (his companion in the photos holding the more modern Germanic implement, the MP5) speaks greater volumes about the movement than the notoriously loud and boisterous demonstrations and counter-demonstrations by its supporters and opponents.
For a group evidently desperate to put distance between itself and the neo-Nazi movement, the EDL has a slight problem in the fact that is filled with neo-Nazis. The inevitable result of organising street protests which consist largely of angry white men is that the white supremacist movement will crop up as a cancer returning from remission. Flag-carrying ‘14-88’ers, old boys of the National Front, unaligned racial purists and your common-or-garden Daily Star “what-I-reckon” patriots can celebrate their diversity at an EDL demonstration, many of which have already suffered the embarrassment of spontaneous Nazi salutes and overtly racist banners and placards appearing in the crowds. Although styling itself as a populist “street protest” movement, the EDL has acquired deeply disturbing attachments to violence and militarism – but this acquisition was possibly fated from the start. The League’s obsession with “showing respect” for “Our Boys” was born in the events which, according to its leadership, founded the EDL. A forerunner to the League was involved in counter-protests against Islamist groups, themselves protesting the returning coffins of British military personnel in 2008 and 2009. This particular group, Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah (Followers of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah) operated with the spiritual figurehead of Anjem Choudary, also the leader and spokesman for the now-proscribed group Islam4UK. Also associated with Choudary was the group (again, now proscribed) Muslims Against Crusades, a front organisation for Islamist expansionism masquerading as an anti-war protest group. The relationship between the English Defence League and these groups is intriguing all the more because, despite the name-changes and restructuring necessitated by having one’s name on a proscribed list, the behaviour of the League and its Islamist counterparts is remarkably similar.
Despite both sides foreswearing violence in public appearances and pleading the every-virtuous exaltation of “peaceful protest”, it is clear that both the League and the Islamist movement regard violence as legitimate in the service of their cause. Whether directly ordered by leadership, or through the spontaneous enthusiasm of lower ranks, members of both movements have begun arming themselves for sectarian conflict. Some inspiration in the League has clearly been drawn from the stubborn hardliners of the Ulster Defence Association and Ulster Freedom Fighters, evident more so by the numerous photographs of EDL members posing with ‘Red Hand’ flags and Ulster regalia. Whether the EDL will imitate the UDA’s tactic of targeted murders and kidnapping of members from “the other lot” remains to be seen. Having killed at least 480 Catholics, both IRA members and civilians, during the Troubles, the Ulster paramilitaries make for a poor role model if the EDL is determined to “combat extremism” through street protests. But perhaps more notable in the association of the EDL with the original “No Surrender” crowd is precisely why a movement dedicated to stopping “the Islamisation of Europe” has thrown in allegiance with a Protestant sectarian cause in Northern Ireland. If the worst fears of the UDA were realised and the six counties joined the Republic, it would have little or no impact on Islam’s place in Europe. So what does the EDL aim to achieve through this alliance?
And conversely, why are Choudary’s various campaign groups encased in fanatical Islamist ideology, if their primary goal is to protest against Western interventionism? Secular anti-war movements would serve the purpose of obstructing the war effort more successfully, especially if they could include the support of non-Muslims. But Choudary’s solutions for Britain’s social problems, particularly the establishment of “autonomous emirates” in British cities and the separation of Muslim communities from British society and law, reveal exactly why his movements must glorify jihadism and violent struggle – nobody with a sane mind would embrace these solutions voluntarily.
Perhaps Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, the founder of the EDL, did not intend for any of this. A son of Irish immigrants, it is unlikely he invited the UDA-glorifying militias into the organisation; if he did, then his callousness towards opponents and the EDL’s own members is matched only by his rank stupidity. He has tried consistently to keep a respectable, non-violent, and even multi-ethnic face on the EDL. Perhaps his efforts are sincere – the football hooliganism in which he cut his militant’s teeth contained all the violence and barbarism of the Nazi Party’s Storm Troopers, but without the same racial hatred. Many football hooligan firms, and EDL rallies, have included black and other ethnic minority members, with Lennon’s support. The primary danger encompassing the EDL at this point is an internal coup d’état by the hardliners which Lennon and the ‘respectable’ leadership have recklessly fostered. Stephen Lennon himself is in danger of becoming a new Anton Drexler, soon to be ousted by a more popular, more charismatic and uncompromising leader from within the movement’s ranks. Whoever replaces him may be from a National Front or BNP background, determined to eliminate the multi-ethnic credos of the group and possibly expand its remit to other causes. Beyond mere anti-Islamism, the EDL could find profitable markets in economic scapegoating against the Jewish population, secure the aid of school-playground bigotry against the LGBT community and enlist the help of conservative Christians were it to promise, as Nick Griffin has done, a return to “Christian values” in Britain. All the while, it would maintain its armed wing for enforcing policy on the streets of contested cities, then on a national scale.
Paramilitary violence, whether phrased as “resistance” or “freedom fighting”, invariably brings misery, suffering and humiliation to the societies that it blights. It has been political expedience and England’s tight gun laws which have so far prevented the EDL and its Islamist opponents from escalating their conflict into anything more than petty street brawls. Balancing the health of England’s civil society on these circumstances remaining in its favour would be as reckless as the language of both camps – “defence” implies assault by an enemy to be met with force. Both movements are dangerously close to producing legions of lone-wolf Breiviks and Merahs, as well as building institutional violence in more reputable facades.
Jack’s free ebook, The Morbid 9K Race will be available for download soonTweet