Should EDL have been permitted to march where Moseley's Blackshirts marched? 
Last Saturday saw the EDL march over the River past the Tower, past its Traitor's Gate and then around the bankers' palaces of EC3, up to a stand-off with police outside Aldgate East Tube station, only to find the latter closed with no services stopping there (much like the routine experience of a multitude of London's commuters faced with the wrong kind of snow - perhaps they were the wrong kind of demonstrator for London' flaunted diverse demographics). This was to be the EDL's biggest march ever ... it totalled 500 to 600 overweight wannabe-patriots in need of some exercise. There was every reason to expect trouble, so soon and so close to the outrageous murder of Lee Rigby, and provoked by a succession of foul activities by a handful of hothead Muslims in the East London Mosque's neighbourhood.

Should the march have been permitted? In hindsight the answer may have been a resounding 'No' if the police lines had not held and street violence ensued - instead the whole affair served to show that the EDL's weight of support lies in its grossed up Body Mass Index rather than its collective IQ. The stock answer from the Muslims in the local community, and from the local community as a whole should certainly have been 'No' - they are the ones whose lives and property were put under threat and whose weekend was disrupted, and they are the ones who will bear the cost of the massive police presence at a time when local poverty causes them to bear the brunt of the government's swingeing cuts in vital services.

The stock answer from the Muslim establishment is also an unsurprising 'No'. But with the sagacity of hindsight, now that the EDL are safely back in their bars, my answer is definitely 'Yes', notwithstanding their associates' propensity for arson, one of the most lethally dangerous of civil crimes (and which should not be distinguished from terrorism, since that is very often its intent). Yes, because ironically the EDL chose to march in an area that is iconic for its stand off against Moseley's Blackshirts in 1936, thus indelibly associating themselves with the one unquestionably fascist movement that Britain has spawned, and also with the moment of its popular defeat.

You could almost superimpose pictures of the EDL on top of pictures of the BUF, even though it was difficult to see the ranks of redneck beerguts and rippling tattoos, because the view was obstructed by three lines deep of police hemming them in. You certainly couldn't have called it a march of progress since the European fascist movements of the 30s. And you could certainly draw parallels between the normalisation of anti-Jewish caricatures and scaremongering, and the equivalent scaremongering of today's weak political parties grasping at cheap populist jibes against Muslims. If you do, you have good reason to be fearful for democracy, freedom of expression and freedom from the autocratic instruments of state control.

Furthermore, by choosing to march, the EDL foisted upon the public their wish to indulge themselves in the public purse for a substantial bill of police overtime at a time when their own childrens' health services and schools are in desperate straits. (It would be valuable for the cost of the policing to be published.) That's not an argument against them marching, it's an argument that says to society that to have organisations such as the EDL at large carries a high price, economic and social. By demonstrating in such a sensitive area, EDL demonstrates that they are such as don't care for the people they claim to represent.

There is another, more subtle reason why they should have been allowed to march, if only as far as the tube station. The EDL seeks to map their protests and campaigns explicitly to the Muslim communities. It believes that it can draw on popular anger with some Muslims' behaviour, the stupidity of young Muslim 'activists' hassling people on the street over their manner of dress or sexuality, the snide conceits about parts of Tower Hamlets being a 'Muslim area', and the revolting murder of Lee Rigby. In this respect the EDL is right, it can garner support from popular anger. It most certainly will do for as long as the Muslim community's own response is inept. In turn, the Muslim community's response will remain inept for as long as it fails to get a hold on, respectively, the arrogant young men that claim the right to enforce fragments of a nursery school level of interpretation of Islamic conduct, the self-centred way in which after dominating the area, the local Bangladeshi Muslim community treats others, including other Muslims, as invisible (more on this below). The wider community is right to be angry that the Muslim community was given two young, impressionable converts to Islam, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Oluwatobi Adebowale, Nigerians by birth, and discarded them to be dropped into an extremist pit, from which they emerged to be accused of the murder Lee Rigby. For reasons I will attempt to explore in depth later, these two found nothing and no one to welcome them into the mainstream of the Muslim community, just the racism, sectarianism and insularity of a community that puts its selfish interests first, and the welfare of a pair of converts to the religion from an alien culture and alien community, very much last.

So if the public perception is that the EDL have a point, and that it really is a counterpoint to the Muslim community's interests, then the public will equate banning the former with rolling back on the latter. The Muslim community fosters within it many enclaves of hate-speech and exclusivity. Beware of what you ask for when you ask to ban the EDL.

To my mind however, allowing the EDL to march is allowing them to stand in their own stocks and pillories, open to ridicule by the whole world.

Now back to that comment about the local Bangladeshi Muslim community treating others as invisible. Many times when I have walked down Whitechapel Road, every bit the archetype Muslim with imamah, beard, white qamees and sirwaal, I have naively expected every step of the way to be punctuated with salaams with everyone I pass. Instead, and disconcertingly, every single pious-looking old man in cotton cap, stringy beard and kurta walks straight past me without a murmur or even a flicker of eye contact. It's not about being Muslim, it's about me not being Sylheti. In their eyes, I don't belong, any more than the next non-Sylheti. The corollary of this is in south London, where in the same day, I am served with deferential apologies for queue-jumping by an Asian Muslim man, yet I don't understand a word of his Punjabi; and again I am accosted by a man outside his newly opened corner shop, again in Punjabi that is unintelligible to me, but whose body language tells me to come and browse his new shop. The conceited assumption that allows these two both to assume that I as a visible Muslim will inevitably understand their sub-continental dialects, is as offensively racist as the Bangladeshis' collective tribal separatism in Tower Hamlets and in its own way as racist as the Chav bawling anti-Muslim abuse from the window of his mate's white van. Pursuing this theme of the same implied racism: the main, UK-based 'mainstream' Bareilvi and Deobandi imam-training institutions use Urdu as the teaching medium for religious subjects; the majority of masjids render their Friday 'wyaaz', speeches, in Punjabi, Urdu, Sylheti or Bangla (not the Khutbah itself, which has strict rules about its content and presentation in Qur'anic Arabic). Most of those who include English, do so with cringingly poor knowledge of the language. Together these make up an attitude towards the indigenous culture that is high-handed and dismissive, essentially racist in its assumption that the indigenous community has little relevance to them.

Thus Muslim readers, you have a taste of the deep unease felt by many non-Muslims in neighbourhoods where Muslims and Muslim tribes high-handedly assume they have no social obligations to anyone but their own. None of that attitude chimes with EDL asserting that Tower Hamlets is "subject to sharia law", but it has everything to do with degradation of the community to the point where "Muslim patrols" act as "vigilantes implementing Islam upon your own necks". It also has a lot to do with why two Muslim converts both named Michael, never had a snowball's chance of settling into the mainstream of Islam.


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