Bigotry in Manchester
5 Oct 2009 by CST
The BBC reports on the appalling desecration of Muslim graves in Southern Cemetery, the largest municipal cemetery in Manchester. Hope Not Hate draws the obvious inference that this may be connected to the English Defence League march which is due to take place in Manchester city centre on Saturday afternoon.
Because the EDL does not necessarily fit into the common, pre-existing understanding of far right politics - for instance, that its membership is not exclusively white, and that some of its supporters have brandished Israeli flags - there is disagreement about the extent to which they can be classified as a far right, racist group. There is room for an academic discussion about whether they should be described as racist or Islamophobic; or whether their politics are fully far right, or more akin to an adaptation of the aggressive, xenophobic nationalism displayed by English football hooligans at countless football tournaments in years gone by. However, this discussion, as interesting as it may be to observers of extremist politics, should not distract anybody from the bigotry, division and demonisation that are central to the EDL, as they are to all forms of extremism; nor from the obvious provocation at the heart of their demonstrations.
The people who vandalised Muslim gravestones - is there anything sicker than desecrating a cemetery? - may have nothing to do with the EDL; but the desecration itself and the reaction to it, show how even just the anticipation of a demonstration by an overtly bigoted group can increase tension and has the potential to set communities against each other. Hope Note Hate have documented the extensive links between the EDL and football hooligan gangs, their more ambiguous and varied connections to far right groups and the bigotry in their internal discourse. It is possible to make the argument that despite this, they still have the right to free speech, and that their perceived grievances - whether true or not - need to be addressed. We now know, though, that EDL demonstrations tend to be marked by violence, whether between the EDL and counter-demonstrators, or between one or both sets of demonstrators and the police. The EDL then withdraw and leave community relations in a mess. This is not a new trick, and we shouldn't fall for it again.