November 04, 2009

Far right embraces fatwas

The English Defence League claims to protest against threats and intimidation – yet one of its organisers has issued a fatwa

The English Defence League (EDL) claims it is a non-racist, multicultural organisation engaged in "peaceful" protests against Muslim extremism. If that's the case could someone please explain why one of its organisers has issued a fatwa against a journalist?

On Saturday, I covered the group's protest in Leeds. After the event, a well-known EDL organiser saw fit to email a death threat to me with the title "Fatwa". The email said: "A fatwa has been issued on you my communist friend. Enjoy any money you've made from EDL protests, as if you are spotted again you will be fed up." The email was signed "Simples". But a little investigation discovered it originated from an organiser of the English and Welsh Defence League divisions.

Unfortunately this was not an isolated incident. Photographer and investigative journalist Marc Vallée also received an email containing a death threat, only days after being pictured and named by the extreme right website Redwatch – a long-running site with links to Combat 18. Redwatch was set up to identify, intimidate and target those who protest at, document or investigate far-right groups.

A National Union of Journalist (NUJ) statement refers to verbal threats and intimidation aimed at photographers covering the EDL march at the weekend and other EDL protests this year.

I find it almost comically ironic that these very tactics are exactly what the EDL claims to be "peacefully protesting" against. And now one of its organisers has issued a "fatwa". I thought only Islamic extremists did that? But this behaviour should come as no surprise from a group declaring it is not racist when chants like, "If you all hate Pakis clap your hands" and "I hate Pakis more than you" are commonplace during its demonstrations.

The fact of the matter is these emails, the latest in a catalogue of racist chants, intimidation, violence and Nazi salutes, expose a darker side to the EDL. No matter how many people of varying ethnicity it pulls in on its protests, it will not disguise its roots in far-right and fascist politics or its football hooligan tactics. The trouble is some people believe the EDL propaganda. It has growing support from disillusioned young white people, as seen in Manchester, where its numbers were around 1,000.

The recent BBC reports of EDL protests paint a very different picture to what I saw on the ground, they seem to be playing down the serious public order threat the EDL represents. It was claimed the numbers at Unite Against Fascism (UAF) counter-protests exceeded the EDL numbers two-to-one. The truth is in Manchester it was the opposite, the EDL also outnumbered the police.

The BBC report on Saturday in Leeds mentioned nothing of the EDL supporters breaking out of the protest pen, police beating them back with batons and the hour-long street rampage that ensued, knocking over motorbikes, running over cars, damaging shop windows and physically assaulting members of the press.

Perhaps someone should remind the EDL that like the right to protest, press freedom underpins the free democratic society it so boldly proclaims it is in the street to protect. Intimidation, violence, fatwas and threatening emails do not.

Comment is free

No comments: