Thursday, 24 March 2011

EDL hit the streets in Reading

Politics came to the streets of Reading last weekend as the proto-racial English Defence League staged a march from Reading Station to rally outside the Old Town Hall.

Participants explained they were stating their opposition to the 'Islamification' of the country and described the Oxford Road mosque as an "absolute eyesore" which they don't want replicated in East Reading.

Official estimates of 200 attendees were met with a heavy police presence and about 50 anti-EDL protesters as onlookers described "a real feeling of menace and intimidation" surrounding the event.

EDL-supporter and anti-EU campaigner European Freedom Initiative was clearly proud of the turn-out, publishing a digital photo-album from the event.

Leader of Reading Borough Council Cllr Andrew Cumpsty condemned the activities of a small minority of 'hateful' voices, stating that nobody who preaches division has a place in civilised political debate, emphasising how "In Reading we celebrate all the varied parts of our town."

Indeed leaders of all three political groups on RBC maintained an officially-united front in support of political pluralism.

However the cracks in the facade were visible as Labour activist Richard McKenzie was "shocked, frustrated and disgusted" that the EDL are advertising their existence at all with their 'frightening' and 'apalling' opinions.

Via email while attempting to build a response, the Reading Against Racism group argues,
"Dont be fooled. We dont need no 'english' defence league. We only need working-class defence...[to] unite ordinary people of all backgrounds and support us to resist inequality, poverty, exploitation, authoritarianism and division."

On the other hand Jane Griffiths explains this is a counter-productive and contradictory attitude, as banning unacceptable views is authoritarian and simply plays directly into the hands of the intolerant by driving them into the shadows where they can't be challenged - and it certainly doesn't deal with any real concerns they may have.

Coincidentally Cllr Swaine also suggests the EDL may be approaching politics in completely the wrong way. As he says, drawing on the individual experience of suffering is a good way to identify shared universal truths but particular facts are easily obscured through mis-interpretation and re-interpretation, especially by those with wilfully ignorant, selfish or malicious motives.

And the plain intention of the march and rally was to try to stimulate a negative response, as an EDL spokesman indicated with a series of accusations,
"There are 12 Islamic centres in Reading and that's fine, within the Muslim community that's fine - but the trouble with the Muslim community is they don't want to interact with our ways and our laws and they start preaching their hate."
Meanwhile Reading Muslim Council showed how they're engaging with the suburban middle-classes as Berkshire Humanists advertise an Islamic Exhibition hosted at the Oakwood Centre in Woodley from 5-7th May.

Nonetheless full social integration still has some way to go, as Reading Council for Racial Equality's Ejaz Elahi expressed some reservations about the nature of identity,
"Obviously the Muslim community is unhappy about it. They don't like to be picked on by people who don't even belong to Reading."
Reading Police commander, Supt Stuart Greenfield, confirmed over 80 officers were on duty and no arrests were made on the day. He described the police's role in maintaining public order as a success, adding that officers mainly kept to a watching brief, before concluding,
"It's a democracy, people have the right to peacefully protest - but that's the key, it's about peaceful protest."

Oranjepan says:
EDL has recently been stepping forward with a series of political rallies as it tries to build popular momentum as a political force and potentially stand candidates at future elections.

Just seven arrests were made in Luton as 5,000 EDL supporters were confronted by the extreme Muslim group Islam4UK, but in Rochdale 31 arrests were the result of clashes between the 400 EDL supporters and 100 members of Unite Against Fascism (UAF).

Reading's public and authorities each deserve congratulations for preventing an outbreak of violence and disorder - it shows the high standards of local political debate and the value placed on contrasting viewpoints as a way to help produce constructive policy outcomes.

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