The departure of Stephen Lennon, aka Tommy Robinson, aka Paul Harris, his right-hand man Kevin Carroll and an assortment of other ‘leading lights’ from the English Defence League has been regarded by most pundits as something of a surprise. Lennon, citing an inability to control ‘extremist elements’ within the EDL, now intends to abandon the modus operandi of street protests and casual violence in favour of what he describes as ‘more democratic’ ideas. It surely signals the end of a movement that rapidly became a shit-stain on the cultural landscape, a magnet for soccer hooligans and neo-nazis, and every bit as extreme as the toxic form of Islamism it claimed to oppose.
Then again, it’s hard to imagine that anyone forming a group like the EDL would foresee it turning out any other way than it did. As a ‘pressure group’ that did not actually contest elections, their plain-speaking anti-Islamist message was simple enough to grasp. However, unlike with most ‘pressure groups’, I never quite understood their vision of how Britain needed to change, what mainstream politicians actually had to do in order to ‘defend’ whatever needed ‘defending’. Was the truth too ghastly to say out loud? Or did their political activities merely become a day out for the casuals and self-identifying members of the ‘disenfranchised white working class’?
It was quite obvious from seeing the familiar pattern of EDL battles with Unite Against Fascism, themselves an altogether different assortment of nutjobs, that the fighting between them was choreographed and pre-arranged, as is the case with rival football firms. Lennon never condemned violence amongst his members precisely because this was what most of them had signed up for, perhaps understanding the tendency of officially non-racist, civic nationalist outfits to fall between the cracks and quickly become irrelevant. Regardless of whatever his personal message might be (and we’re probably about to find out) it was clear as day that he needed the extremists far more than they needed him.
But it was not just the utter pointlessness of the EDL that I found striking. It was also the rather ludicrous narrative of a ‘muslim community’ that knows each other’s every move, where even if you’re not a would-be terrorist, or member of a paedophile gang, then you must at least know who is, and have a duty to either sort it out within that ‘community’ or involve the law. As a Protestant who knows quite a few Catholics, I can confirm that the identity of Real IRA members, or various loyalist loonies and their bigoted factions, their full names, addresses and details of their activities, remain as elusive as ever. Honestly guv, it’s not like we haven’t been trying to find out…
So why should a homogenous block called ‘British Muslims’ be expected, or if we’re being honest, assumed, to know any more about what each other are up to? I won’t go down the tiresome road of boasting that ‘some of my best mates are muslims’ as Lennon occasionally has, but I’ve known several quite well. One I remember quite famously from a series of nights out in my late teens that I remember more of now than I actually did at the time – let’s just say that he and his ‘devout faith’ had something of an open relationship. We supported the same football team, loved and hated much of the same music, found over time that what we had in common far outweighed any differences, particularly after a few beers.
Looking back, it all seemed like quite an ‘English way of life’ to me, precisely the sort that the English Defence League seemed intent on, er, defending. From exactly what, it’s hard now to tell. I mean, if there is really just one ‘English way of life’ then someone had better explain to me exactly what it is, why it’s so superior to all other ‘ways of life’ and their noble reasons for wishing to impose it on the rest of us against our will. Although it may shock a few people, the vast majority of us are against terrorism, paedophile gangs and any suffocation of human rights in the name of culture. So, did the EDL stand for anything beyond the blatantly fucking obvious? Was there a profound message here that some of us just didn’t understand?
I appreciate the irony, and hope never to have to talk about that shower of shit again – take it easy.