Hearts, minds hatred and failure

By Emma.

This is a really difficult piece to write. It is the culmination of a great many thoughts I have had over the last few years, but it is not a piece full of resolution. I have not come to any firm, neat conclusions I can set out in 600 words. This won’t be pithy.

I am also aware that I am writing about issues touching on race from an extremely privileged position – one which should be front and centre in my mind as I negotiate through these feelings, just as I ask men to do so when questioning issues of gender. I am a comfortable, straight, white middle class beneficiary of the current system. I have a good education. I own property. I have a great, well paying job I enjoy. No one treats me as a criminal just on the basis of the colour of my skin nor on the basis of my religion – or lack thereof. I am approaching this debate not from a detached perspective – racism is something about which I get very emotional – but from the perspective of one who is not immediately threatened by the presence of the EDL on our streets. Is this detachment a good thing? I don’t know. As a campaigner I would always argue that the voice of users or victims count more than the voices of advocates. But this does not make the voice of advocates worthless. It does not make my questions or my unease worthless.

Two things happened this week that have got me thinking. Cogitating. Wondering. Not having an immediate answer to them, I thought I might set out my confusion here to see if writing it down helps.

The first was a fairly intense debate on my Facebook Page between two Labour stalwarts on the best way to approach people who are extremely right wing. Whether it should be openly, developing a dialogue to try to create a safe space to question their views and try to win them over to ours, or whether to shun them, reject them as we reject the vile views they espouse, to try to shame them, ensuring that such views continue to be considered shameful by wider society lessening the chances of more people being attracted to such views.

Shortly after this debate ended, Tommy Robinson announced he was leaving the EDL as reportedly through the result of outreach work by the Quillaim Foundation – he had become convinced that they were too violent and extreme. He has not repudiated his views of Islamism nor rejected his former friends and colleagues in the EDL, and he is looking to continue to battle what he regards as Islamic extremism in other ways. Many are extremely sceptical others are simply scathing.

I am not sure either of these are the right response. Robinson clearly has leadership qualities. He may have dedicated these to espousing ideas I loathe, but that does not mean they don’t exist. If he can be fully brought around to an anti-racist viewpoint, he could employ these qualities to bringing a great many people with him. That feels like an opportunity worth working towards to me. Taking time to welcome Robinson’s first few, small steps – however unsteady – and create an atmosphere that encourages further steps, further repudiation might risk us looking stupid if it doesn’t work, but gives great rewards if it does. That feels like a worthwhile calculation. I may well be proved wrong. I may well end up with egg on my face, my pride dented by having taken a risk and failed. But I hope that would still mean I would take the same risk next time. But I worry that if this does go wrong, in part that will be down the the very hostility this announcement has been met with. And that hostility and failure will make it harder still for others to change their minds.

But I worry that we have lost any focus on changing minds. Does hatred of racism have to equate to hatred of racists? Because that is the tone of the anti-EDL debate online and on marches. We loathe EDL members with the same spite – if not – thankfully – the same violence – that EDL members hate the Muslim community. In this us and them battle, both sides are happy to define themselves against the other and widen the divide between groups rather than try to recruit our opponents to our way of thinking.

When the EDL March, Twitter lights up with two reactions, that of SCUM as discussed above, but also of ridiculing the lack of intelligence of those marching. Often this isn’t hard. Racism is born of ignorance. The misspelled posters and ridiculous claims about Islam are firm visceral proof of the credulity of the EDL members.

But what I have never heard asked is why EDL members are largely poorly educated and whose fault that is. Are these people failures or have they been failed? Should we look to the education system to better  improve the lives of people living on the margins? Or do people’s educational failures no longer matter once their education is no longer the remit of the state?

Are they beyond redemption? Can we – as the left – believe so in ways we rail against when it comes to those who have committed and served times for crimes? I don’t believe we should. Not because I believe – in any way – that the EDL have a case either in their cause or their tactics, but precisely because I believe they don’t. So when I see people who have been drawn down a path of security in their ignorance, I want to draw them away from that path – not hurry them along it with harsh rejection.

I reject the ideas of racism and anti-Muslim sentiment completely. Anyone who tries to suggest otherwise on the strength of this piece or otherwise is very, very wrong to do so. but I do wish to see a better dialogue about the best way to defeat racism. I do want to see a questioning of our current tactics and some investigation into whether they are the most efficient way to drive racism from our lives. I don’t know how that can best be done, but perhaps – inadvertently or not – Tommy Robinson has given us an opportunity to try and find out. We should take it.


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2 comments to “Hearts, minds hatred and failure”

  1. Comment by SimonFa:

    I read this while on holiday in Germany last week and been thinking about it for a while so this will be a bit long winded I’m afraid and probably should be a post in my now defunct blog rather than a comment, but here goes.

    >>The first was a fairly intense debate on my Facebook Page between two Labour stalwarts on the best way to approach people who are extremely right wing.<<

    You admitted on your podcast some time ago that you were wrong about Nick Griffin going on QT. Same still applies. You won't win a debate with people whose views are so entrenched that they will not listen, however it is important that they should be heard to be the ignoramuses that they are.

    Before going further I'd like to say that I think we can agree wholeheartedly with the right wing blogger, Raedwald, when he says that immigration policy is not the fault of immigrants and they shouldn't be blamed in any way nor made to feel guilty.

    Having taught at the School of Signals in Zimbabwe straight after independence trying to help integrate the various sides and then as a civilian worked for some senior members of the MK (military wing of the ANC for those who don't remember) I have seen firsthand extreme racism (a white pulled out a gun in a hotel in Bulawayo and ranted about "Kaffirs") and remember the the no blacks, no Irish signs that were displayed in some areas. Indeed I remember that passing of the first anti racism laws and some of the debates, and in hindsight they were frightening. My best friend for a while at King James Grammar School in Huddersfield was the first non white to attend, the son West Indian doctor.

    It's hard to believe that we've come so far, but still have so many problems. I think part of the problem is muddled thinking by the left, the shouting down, especially in the 90's and 2000's of anyone who raised the issue of the immigration, a lack of honesty by political leaders and the conflating of culture with race.

    Firstly considering race. People are born with race distinctions and can't do anything about it even if they wanted to. Furthermore, it is wrong that they should even consider it, but sadly we know that it happens. But it is not just an identity issue that says we shouldn't treat people differently, or inferior, which is the really crux of the problem, but an economic one. As I've said on previous comments, we want to generate wealth to redistribute and it is plain stupid to chose people for employment based on colour or any other racial distinction. This point doesn't seem to get made very well when dealing with the likes of the BNP and EDL, that we, they, are better off with race equality. Interestingly FW De Klerk makes that clear in his autobiography.

    We can't make people socialise with other races we but can and should make sure that they cannot be ostracised from society by making sure that people cannot be barred from taking part equally and openly in the society in which they live based on race. For that reason I also fully support all the race laws that have been implemented to ensure that racism isn't acceptable in open society.

    Now to religion, Islam and Muslims and I suspect that this is probably where we will disagree. Islam are not a race. Islam is a religion, a belief system, that people choose to practice and follow. By choosing a religion people are making a statement about their beliefs. Fine, they have right to that choice but what they don't have a right to do is expect other's to follow it or to have their beliefs protected by law. Their right to practice should be protected by law but they should have no legal rights not to be criticised or discriminated against because of that religious choice. What they do within their own religion and clubs is, however, their right as long as it is between consenting adults and within the law of the land.

    I admit to having a strong reservations about Islam. I spend a couple of days a week in London staying at an ex-Services club just off the Edgware Road and am quite comfortable with the culture round there. However whenever I see women wearing the bhurkas or similar I can't help thinking that it is a backward step. I remember the struggles of women to become train drivers, join the Army, rather than WRAC, and many other "firsts". Maybe those women are wearing them voluntarily but how will we ever know? And yes I am aware that some say the bhurka isn't a religious requirement, but this woman thought it was as do many others.

    Islam as practiced by a large number of its adherents is also a very intolerant religion and that is something that goes against the very nature of our society. As AC Graying says in Liberty in the Age of Terror we should tolerate everything except intolerance, especially those who use our free speech laws to undermine free speech. Until we can find a single Muslim leader who speaks for all Islam, as the Pope speaks for Catholics and the Archbishop for Protestants etc we have to be very wary of Islam for it has many leaders.

    So back to the EDL and BNP and why they attract so many people. I think it is frustration. They aren't necessarily racist, indeed the EDL seems to go out of its way to show it isn't and many of them are not even not-like-us-ist. We don't see demonstrations against the Chinese community, for example, so they seem to have a specific gripe. Having said what I did about Islam I suspect that most of the people who sign up to the EDL don't really care about Islam and Muslims as long as they are allowed to go about their own business and not get shouted down as racist every time they raise concerns about Islam or inadvertently cause offence to the professional offence takers.
    Like you I'm relaxed about immigration for many of the reasons you give but also because I get the argument about immigration being an economic benefit. I am also proud that we take in asylum seekers and then ashamed that we treat them so badly, but that's another story. But the economic benefits have not been explained by the political leaders who allowed immigration to increase, seemingly unchecked. Furthermore, in a rationed system, and like it or not housing is rationed through planning and lack of land in many inner cities where immigrants first congregate, health care is rationed and always will be because it is an unlimited requirement drawing on limited resources, school places are rationed because of space and welfare is rationed for the same reason as health care.

    So when the indigenous population in our inner cities see immigrants who are not like them coming inn they, wrongly but understandably, see them as competition for those services I mention above. In these times of austerity they also see them as in competition for "their" jobs. Worse still, whenever they raise these concerns they are shouted down as bigots and racists. This makes them easy fodder for the likes of the BNP and EDL because at least someone is "listening" to them and understands them.

    By now I suspect I've lost everyone who started reading , but if I haven't…..

    So, in conclusion, you don't need to like the BNP and EDL and whoever rises next, but you do need to engage with their message and their constituents without shouting racist at every utterance. That Steve Robinson has been persuaded to leave is a big feather in the cap of the Quilliam Foundation (and yes I've read Ed Hussain's book the Islamist as well) but I suspect he was never really that anti-Islamist or racist in the first place, just very frustrated that he couldn't be heard.

    Again, I apologise for the long comment and understand it's your gaff your rules and you have a right not to publish. But if you exercise that right do it because its incoherent or long but not because you think I'm racist, I assure you I'm not.

  2. Comment by SimonFa:

    If you don’t have access to this weeks’ Economist try to find one and read Bagehot. He visited an EDL rally and it makes interesting, if slightly frightening reading.

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