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WHITECHAPEL UNITED AGAINST DIVISION
1 Two sorts of anti-fascism
3 Community Defence: Reflections on June 20th
8 Whitechapel United Against Division: Reflections on the Anti-EDL Mobilisations on Sunday. This is the statement issued by WAG on their blog after June 20th
9 Unity Platform Against Racism And Fascism
11 An orgy of manipulation
12 The day the EDL didn’t come to Tower Hamlets
14 Out on the streets…happy days
15 A conversation worth having…
17 Learning some lessons…
22 Anti-fascism from within the community
TWO SORTS OF ANTI-FASCISM
When we heard that the English Defence League intended to come to Whitechapel to oppose an Islamist conference we were presented with two problems. The first was how to deal with this politically, the second how to respond to this practically.
Our political response was principled opposition to both events – ‘a plague on both your houses’. The views espoused by the proposed conference speakers were repellent, racist, sexist and homophobic. And the views of the EDL are no better. They affect to simply oppose Islamist extremism: its anti-Semitism, its attacks on women’s rights, its homophobia – and, of course, its terrorism. Yet a glance at the EDL message boards reveals homophobia, sexism and racism. Even if the EDL stood for what they claim to, it would still be a vile organization, given the involvement of people associated with the BNP, NF and Blood and Honour among other groups.
However, we believed that the conference was a Whitechapel matter. There was no need for the EDL to come to the area as we opposed the conference as much as we did the threatened EDL incursion. Having any group of outsiders parachuting into the area to oppose the conference was, we felt, opportunism of a low sort. And when it was the English Defence League, with the racial antagonism likely to accompany them, we felt it only right and proper to tell them to sling their hook. Taking them at face value, we let them know that their presence was neither necessary nor desirable. This may have played some part in their decision not to travel on the day: although the rough reception they received when EDL elements decided to visit before 20 June will have concentrated their minds somewhat too.
Practically, we felt it important to engage with other local people and local groups to express our opposition to the planned EDL demonstration. To this end, I and other WAG members attended two public meetings on the issue. The first of these saw the launch of an umbrella organization, ‘East End United’. About fifty people crowded into a small room at Bethnal Green’s Oxford House to discuss the EDL menace. We heard from people like Labour’s John Biggs and the UAF’s Weyman Bennett who outlined how they saw things. And they saw things rather differently from us! It became apparent that agendas were at work – not an agenda to engage with people honestly and frankly, but to stitch things up behind the scenes. UAF had already decided to have a demonstration, and had been in discussions with the police. A fait accompli was being prepared, to take people away from confrontation with the EDL, to take people away from a possible defence of important local sites like the East London Mosque, and to turn people’s anger and fear into an ineffective A to B march. We felt strongly that, given events at previous EDL mobilizations, defence of the area was vital. What UAF proposed would leave the field open for the police to operate their own agenda, part of which is to criminalise local youth – as was seen after the Gaza demonstrations of January 2009 when Asian youths and men were subject to serious harassment by the police throughout Whitechapel. Among the points we raised was the need for legal support to be available on the day, for the community to support anyone arrested. This seemed not to have crossed the minds of such experienced anti-fascists as Mr Bennett, who – it became clear – sought less to oppose the EDL than to gain influence for his own organization within Whitechapel. Where we wanted to see the community – in all its parts – empowered by the response to the EDL’s intervention, those segments of it represented by the authoritarian left and the Islamic Forum of Europe wanted to see a response which would seal their authority. Time and again Bennett and other speakers invoked the Battle of Cable Street, talking the language of confrontation, despite their stated aim to avoid the same! The mixed messages they were sending out led me to point out that Cable Street was famously a battle, and if they wanted a peaceful demonstration perhaps they should play less on violent imagery. I think the point escaped them. People criticizing the IFE and their dubious past in Bangladeshi politics were put down in no uncertain terms. Selective chairing saw ‘guest’ speakers invited to speak to prevent other, presumably lesser, people having an input into the discussion. Any suggestion that the Troxy event should be opposed as much as the EDL was rejected, with those bold enough to make such a point accused of Islamophobia. This meeting set the scene for its follow-up, at a church hall in Bethnal Green.
This second event, about a week later, was the worst run meeting I have ever seen, from the point of view of effective and inclusive discussion. From the point of view of the UAF and their friends, though, it was a great success. Things started to degenerate before the meeting started. Instead of forming an inclusive circle, conducive to inviting contributions, Weyman Bennett and his cohorts arranged the chairs in a lecture style. At least one WAG member who objected was called a racist for opposing Bennett’s demands to set the chairs out in rows. An unrepresentative clique took control of the meeting with a panel composed of, among others, Weyman Bennett, who has no known connection with Tower Hamlets. At no point was the composition of the panel considered by the meeting – discussions had clearly taken place beforehand elsewhere. Discrimination in chairing was blatant in preventing people who might disagree with the agreed line having their say. The refusal to listen to opposing points of view, much less act on them, led me and some other members of WAG to leave the meeting early – there was scant point remaining when it had turned into an almost triumphalist rally, a victory of stupidity over common sense which would dictate that the community stand together against an external threat. Having said that, the communities represented at the meeting were largely those of the IFE and its clients (in the Roman sense, those in receipt of the patronage the IFE controls) and sections of the authoritarian left among whom the UAF and SWP were prominent. My feeling was, heaven help us if the EDL do decide to come to Whitechapel in force, because on that day’s showing UAF would leave them with a clear field having led people away and call it a victory. The tacit support for Islamist extremists led to people opposing them being shouted down and called the vilest names. It was a travesty of debate, a victory for stitching things up.
The experience of seeing UAF and IFE at work led me to reassess my feelings about the UAF. Yes, they are ineffectual in opposing fascism. Yes, they parachute in to areas and then depart as quickly. But their role in stifling effective measures for community action against the likes of the EDL means they are not people to take lightly. They will resort to underhand methods to get their own way, they will prevent discussion when allowing people to speak does not suit them. I was reminded of an experience in the late 1990s when the Anti-Nazi League declared that the BNP would invade Brixton. They summoned a mobilization, and when the BNP didn’t turn up – as they had no plans to – announced victory. As then, so now. The ANL rally in the ‘90s and the UAF march now don’t symbolize victories over fascism or nationalism. They signal failures, a failure to create a structure which can resist an EDL incursion when one does occur, a failure to support those elements of the Muslim community who have no truck with the foul views espoused in their name by Islamists, a failure to engage with those parts of the Bengali community who have secular politics. The UAF had their victory parade and went home. Those of us with an interest in Tower Hamlets were left to deal with an opportunity for community unity which was sadly missed due to the prioritizing of certain sectional interests and the relegation of those people who, like WAG, sought a stronger and more united community. It was a victory for division instead.
Community Defence: Reflections on June 20th
Introduction: Putting The Horse Before The Cart
The real story of what happened on June 20th in Tower Hamlets lies in the year and a half prior to the event in which the base of operations we were ultimately able to work from had been laid and nurtured into fruition. The Whitechapel Anarchist Group (WAG) was born out of a frustration with the political situation of it’s time: the beginning of the “credit crunch” and the failure of the anarchist / activist scene in providing an imaginative and tangible response to the down turning economic situation. Seizing the gap in the market WAG hurled non-stop into distributing thousands of it’s popular free sheets, organising regular social events and injecting a bit of in your face fun back into the rotting corpse of revolutionary street politics. Within 6 months from nothing the WAG’s were making headlines due to the G20, falsely infiltrated by The Daily Mail describing us as a “bizarre group of misfits”, but never remaining complacent hosting the popular Spitalfields Fair, supporting the Tower Hamlets College Strikers, organising The Altab Ali Memorial day or painting “Fuck Off Back To Eton” over Cameron’s mug on the Tory Election Poster. As the political situation heightened with Police corruption, MP’s expense scandals, Bankers brazen debauchery the credit crunch morphed into a recession with a venomous bite, while the WAG’s forever evolved as a group and political strategy in resistance. By the time the events of June 20th came around we had built up a solid group of individuals with experience of working together creating a strong sense of solidarity, caring for each other as friends and respectfully debating our ideas as comrades, ultimately raising our heads politically amongst the communities of Whitechapel, East London and way beyond.
(1) Whitechapel United Against Division
The first indications that the English Defence League (EDL) were planning to invade Whitechapel appeared in an article and undercover video from The Guardian capturing
Amit Singh making outlandish claims towards Tower Hamlets. Then within a few days a facebook event calling an EDL demo appeared, but no official confirmation on their forums, outraged against a planned event hosting controversial religious speakers at The Troxy on Commercial Road for June 20th. The meteoric rise of the EDL and the dismal anti-mobilisations of the Left had led some of us from WAG, Hackney, Camden and Croydon to meet weekly forming a critical analysis from an anarchist perspective evolving into an idea of community defence. While it suddenly felt that these meetings were coming to a painful end they were in fact spookily foreseeable, when suddenly we had confirmation of the EDL’s planned presence along with all that entails – dogmatic preachers, heavy handed police, angry youth, totalitarian Trots – right on our very doorstep.
An emergency meeting was called on Tuesday 1st June and within a few hours of it being announced around thirty antifascists including WAG, Antifa, Freedom Bookshop, Hackney Solidarity Network and Feminist Fightback gathered in the London Action Resource Centre, once an anarchist school during the nineteen twenties, and now a hub for our activities amongst the old red brick tenement blocks behind the East London Mosque in the heart of Whitechapel. A phone campaign was ignited through mass emails and texts to encourage antifascists and locals to complain to The Troxy management for hosting speakers with a history of preaching homophobia, anti-Semitism and sexist hatred. A London wide meeting for anarchists and antifascists was proposed for a week later, while in the meantime WAG would continue gathering information on the proposed activities of all the culprits involved and produce a leaflet to mobilise people against these divisive elements.
The WAG Email list was on fire as the proposed flyer text was honed down to perfection, its basic premise being that we stand against both the English Defence League and the Salafi Preachers being hosted under the auspices of the UK Islamic Conference, both being outside elements intent on polarising the community and thus creating further division and subsequent strife in an already economically beleaguered area. Unlike the traditional Left we did not dismiss the EDL under the banner of Nazi’s or BNP, though no doubt they are amongst their numbers, but framed them within the patriotic Loyalist tradition unwittingly paving the way towards fascism. Pushing the line that the community must stand together, in the spirit of mutual aid and solidarity, by Friday 4th June the text went live on our Blog and out into the World under the banner of Whitechapel United Against Division.
(2) United Against Facts / Socialist Wanker Party
Our dealings with the Left has always been a tumultuous relationship, even though we are labeled an anarchist group our membership has often involved libertarian republicans, communists and even a Leninist, despite that fact we have all been united in utter contempt towards the Socialist Worker Party which is easy to understand if you’ve ever met them or tried to be recruited! Our original animosity started when we turned over their stall on Brick lane back in the early formulative months of WAG after much heated debate. The second major incident was in the build up to the 2010 elections in May when WAG helped provide security for the RMT’s street meeting in Barking against the BNP. Despite being the security, the Lefties pointed out our own members as “Nazi’s” only to be told by a respected member of United Against Fascism “well if you are white and working class you should expect people to think you are racist”, a quite racist comment if you think about it. Along with claims of being sexist it all boiled over with a drunken confrontation on a tube train with a completely outnumbered UAF left licking their wounds in a metaphorical sense. But our dealings with the authoritarian SWP and their front group UAF, was about to get stickier.
The evening of Sunday 6th June at Oxford House in Bethnal Green was to be the location; we had received an invitation from Glyn Robbins as part of United East End, to a community-planning meeting against the EDL. From the initial call out we were dubious with the usual suspects of the UAF, local councilors, and even the IFE (Islamic Forum of Europe) who had recently been exposed in a Dispatches episode for hosting controversial speakers at the East London Mosque. But despite these reservations we attended in full gusto with twelve of us turning up to the meeting early, reversing the tactic the SWP usually enact, and surprising all with an organised, articulate and diverse range of individuals. From the outset it was an obvious stitch up by the UAF, the same tactic they use across the country, an unholy alliance sold as a community united under the full control of the SWP. Weyman Bennet enlightened the room with what had already been arranged with the police, an obvious march away from where the EDL were planning to assemble, even producing all the propaganda already printed by the UAF! Local Councillors of all political persuasions got their five minutes to say how disgusted they were and how they opposed the EDL, but little promised in actual organising, the overall jist being a contradiction between evoking imagery of the Battle Of Cable Street while wanting a nice march where grandparents, children, the local vicar and Imam all walk hand in hand. The real point of contention came when we raised the issue of being opposed to the EDL and the Speakers hosted at The Troxy, resulting in us being shouted down as racist and islamaphobic by religious groups and shoulders shrugged by the Trade Unions claiming no knowledge. Having debriefed afterwards with a few comrades from the AWL (Alliance For Workers’ Liberty) it was obvious that the UAF were going to add to our problems instead of alleviating the oncoming situation.
Monday morning and things were to take an even stranger twist, front page of the Council produced East End Advertiser was the cover story declaring The Troxy venue had signed up to the Council’s “No Place For Hate” campaign with not a single mention of the conference being held there. The propaganda war was on and we were ready for it, our wordpress blog had already attracted a strong following since the groups inception, during the month of the G20 in 2009 we had over 7,000 hits, and it was now going to play a major role gaining 11,500 hits over the course of the anti-EDL mobilisations. Pulling together information shared on our email list we posted up a blog “Hate Not Hope” highlighting the East London Advertisers blatant propaganda, including quotes and video evidence of The Troxy speakers including Hussain Yee, Bilal Philips and Aba Usamah spouting sexist, anti-semetic and homophobic hatred. We made our line clear, opposing groups like the EDL and these religious speakers because they divide our communities, a sentiment that was to resonate with many like-minded free thinkers. Tuesday 8th June played host to a meeting of anarchists from across London, the venue being a recently squatted pub in Tower Hill equipped with pool table, fruit machine and lots of booze, and the turn out of nearly fifty comrades was inspiring. The three hour meeting showed a glimpse of what an anarchist movement in London may look like, with working groups being formed for national call out, street medics, propaganda, local liaison, communications and strategy – something which as yet was not pinned down due to the changing situation – and it was agreed upon to meet in a weeks time. But the sense of optimism wasn’t to last long as we once again ventured into the lion’s den on Thursday 10th at the Praxis off Bethnal Green Road with the UAF/United East End’s second meeting.
Set up as a large community briefing this once again proved the obvious as a UAF stitch up, the usual authoritarian tone as the self elected leadership preached to the already converted party members. Questions on the issue of the speakers at the Troxy spouting killing homosexuals in an area with rising homophobic attacks were shouted down as racist and islamaphobic. Reservations over UAF’s propaganda campaign verging on stirring up hysterical fear (Evil Nazi’s coming to get you!) were dismissed by the SWP hegemony. Posturing and rhetoric of smashing the fascists was spouted and lapped up, Battle of Cable Street imagery endlessly evoked in the same breath as wanting no trouble and a positive community demo for all the kids – even when it was pointed out that the Battle of Cable Street was, well, a “Battle”. WAG continuously pointed out the Police would be heavy handed with the youth of Tower Hamlets, making an already tense relationship worse and that we must support all those legally after the event and not dismiss them as trouble makers and leave them out to dry – like with the youth from the Gaza Demo’s facing two years inside for throwing plastic bottles at riot cop shields! But predictably it all fell on deaf ears. Tensions were rising and our debrief after the meeting, between the 15 or so WAG members/ antifascists present, raised many concerns and questions on strategy in the propaganda we produced and what to do on the day. We had the UAF/IFE labeling us as islamophobic troublemakers, the prospect of two groups of bigots (EDL / UKIC Speakers) coming to town, and the major problem of the Police clashing with local kids. Panic was setting in and we decided to call a new meeting for Sunday ahead of the wider London Anarchist meeting on Tuesday to reflect properly on the changes in the situation and how we should act. But in true anarchist fashion, debate and arguments ensued over the next day in regards to process and transparency in calling a new meeting. Tempers frayed, emotions ran high, until suddenly it was announced – The Troxy has cancelled the UK-IC Event.
(3) Incursions In The East End
A bizarre sense of relief set in for a day as it was confirmed The Troxy had pulled the conference, the English Defence League also released a press statement trying to hold face as they now cancelled their proposed demonstration. WAG went ahead with our Sunday 13th meeting at the squatted pub, over ten of us sharing our thoughts on a hectic experience, but it was still clear that the UAF were planning their “Unity” march and we would need a presence. Now the flag waving and religious nutters were out of the equation but the fear that had been whipped up by UAF would mean a lot of angry youth would be out on the streets facing the brutal forces of Her Majesty’s finest. We decided to meet again on Tuesday as already planned to flesh out our strategy for the day.
Tuesday 15th arrived and it all went a bit mental. A text came in: EDL at Whitechapel Station. Down to the high street and into the market we fled, various WAG’s and antifascists turning up, swamped by a mob of local kids we moved as a block from whitechapel station to aldgate east but while it seemed the threat had gone the streets were alive with a tension you could feel and taste. It later transpired that a handful of the EDL Youth Division, returning from a beano in Barking, had drunkenly got off at whitechapel and into the Grave Maurice Pub next door handing out flyers in the market. An obvious provocation considering the past few days, they were spotted by locals and escorted quickly into the tube station by the police before they were attacked by an angry mob. But the damage was done, the UAF now had the justification for their march, and the internet was alive with disinformation of the EDL raping two women and attacking an old man whipping up further hysteria. As the evening progressed more and more people flooded into the area, hanging around outside the East London Mosque, but for us we were off to a meeting to decide what to do on Sunday 20th and now the stakes were much higher.
The day or two of relief had now disappeared as it seemed we were once again under attack from all angles, we had the “Socialist Unity” Blog run by Galloway’s lackey Andy Newman smearing us as Islamaphobic and fascist for criticising The Troxy Speakers, plus we had gangs of kids roaming the street looking for EDL who ended up attacking some of the squatters from the Tower Hill pub a few hours after the meeting out of pure frustration. But emotions were once again about to flip one more time, Friday 18th we were hosting the Red And Black Club out of Larc, and talking on Dissident Island Radio about the build up and the proposed action for the day itself. Then came in a message, our name as a group had been attached to a declaration entitled “Unity Platform Against Racism and Fascism” authored by Nurul Islam and featuring the signatories of the Brick Lane Mosque, MP Jim Fitzpatrick, Tower Hamlets Muslim Council etc. A well written statement that condemned all forms of fascism criticising the provocations of the EDL, the level of hysteria whipped up by the UAF and refusing to stand with the IFE who’s ideological lineage descends from Jaamat-e-Islam, a political party guilty of war crimes in the Bangladesh war of independence. We recognised a few of the signatories from the Altab Ali Memorial but there was still some confusion over how we ended up on it, though we were happy with the analysis and glad that locals had stood shoulder to shoulder with us proving that Muslims aren’t one homogenous group like the EDL or UAF would lead us to believe, there was still an air of tension as the IFE went on to slander it as fake and internet assassins accused us of writing it! But after the event we were able to meet with the author Nurul Islam and happily clarify the content and solidify working relationships for the future.
(4) The Day Itself
We arrived at Larc (London Action Resource Centre) at 9am for an early start, our plan being to operate from the building all day seeing as it was directly behind the East London Mosque and no doubt the epicenter of any action. Set up in the main office we had a map laid out of London with figures placed to follow all the action, updated with a constant flow of information by internet and phone. We had a few people on the UAF march feeding back the progress of the demonstration but more importantly the movements of the police, plus spotters on bikes down in the city trailing a small handful of EDL who the old bill soon picked up. While we were keeping an overview on the unfolding situation, we also had two main banner drops take place, one on the front of our building (Larc) and another on the Royal London Hospital declaring “EDL GO TO HELL” as a sign of solidarity.
The march ended at Altab Ali Park and the UAF demagogues preached their opinions of polarisation noticeably Chris Nineham (Stop The War Coalition) pushing the line that Islam was under attack all over the world, not people in different countries, but Muslims and Islam as a whole, while George Galloway’s (Respect) speech upped the ante of hysteria with remarks of the EDL pulling off women’s hijab’s to stir the crowds up. And as we predicted, once the speeches were completed and the SWP had failed to sell any newspapers, the UAF left for the provinces leaving lots of angry young males with heavily armed police.
Our tactic had been to leaflet the demonstration, we had produced a double sided A5 sheet, one side with legal information and the other with a statement declaring our interests that we stood against the EDL and all forms of fascism but more importantly we stood shoulder to shoulder with our neighbours (and most importantly with the youth) against the brutality and bullying of the Police force. From the demo reaching Altab Ali to the UAF leaving, we remained on the streets in large groups mingling and handing out flyers, chatting and building relationships with youth from Tower Hamlets and Newham. Larc was a production line, running off flyers, cutting them up then jumping on a BMX to cycle around the streets dropping them off to groups of WAG’s, keeping everyone stocked with flyers but also feeding information between all our various affinity groups and also back to the main hub of operations in Larc.
The response was amazing, people were happy to have support against the police legally but also happy to have people with them in the streets, not preaching or selling but working together. The police waded in a few times heavy handed and there were moments of panic and hysteria but we were able to remain organised and clear headed in keeping the crowds safe, forcing the police to take a more stand off approach. The level of tension in the air was high, people mainly pissed off that they had been lied to about the EDL’s presence. But all in all everything passed off peacefully with no arrests. We built strong relationships, engaged in great discussions and provided a sense of levelheaded community spirit having remained out on the streets until early evening before debriefing back at our HQ.
Conclusion: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
The experiences of the anti-EDL mobilizations on June 20th taught us a lot as a group, noticeably developing how we operate in the future in regards to propaganda and as a network amongst our neighbourhood. There are a number of criticisms which I won’t dwell on too much except the one major factor being we were meant to produce a community bulletin sheet the week after and mass deliver it, but the past few weeks had exhausted us to our limits. No doubt this and all the other lessons we learnt will be developed into the future, not just in organising against the right/EDL but also organising against the looming cuts and changing economic situation. The major high light from this experience that I would like to share is how we must develop our own strategy as anarchists away from shadowing the predictable UAF, who in my opinion are just as much to blame. The Religious preachers, English Defence League, United Against Fascism and the Police seem to have a reciprocal relationship of chasing each other around the country whipping up hysteria wherever they go. And if we are to have any political impact in the next few years we must distance ourselves from this charade and push forward with our own direction – not left nor right but straight ahead. Establishing anarchist groups in every borough of London and likewise across the country is what we need to aim for, establishing permanent roots within our communities and fighting the fight of day to day politics, on the streets amongst our neighbours agitating and spreading our ideas so we can build up strong coalitions and networks of resistance. The embryonic idea of Community Defence, whether it be in protecting our community against political / religious bigots, corrupt Police or the Tory cuts, must develop with hubs of anarchist groups across the country building up organised pockets of resistance, popular solidarity and a network of mobilisation in support of each other if we are ever going to have a chance of winning the class war.
Whitechapel United Against Division: Reflections on the Anti-EDL Mobilisations on Sunday.
A controversial few weeks on the streets of Whitechapel culminated on Sunday with a complete no-show by the EDL (not surprising given that their “leadership” had spent the last week urging their members not to attend Sunday after the cancellation of the UK-IC conference at the Troxy). However, there was a strong turn out from local people prepared to defend their community from an opportunistic attack by the EDL, whose central London movements had been monitored by WAG spotters.
The presence, on Tuesday, of up to a dozen EDL members in Whitechapel had lent credence to the hysterical claims of the UAF that thousands of EDL supporters would run rampant through Whitechapel on Sunday. Upon reflection WAG believes the UAF, who had spent the previous few weeks scaremongering, behaved irresponsibly in what turned out to be nothing more than a sensational recruitment drive. Despite organizing a 5000-strong march, they obviously felt no sense of responsibility towards local people once they had realized few were willing to be recruited– fleeing Whitechapel for the provinces after giving their speeches and selling their papers. A few hours after the march ended they were nowhere to be seen, leaving the police and locals in a tense stand-off.
WAG’s position is not one of complacency with regards the EDL but one of realism. The 20-or-so EDL trailing from Edgware down to Whitehall, where they all got themselves nicked, represented little physical threat to the local community – who had assembled en masse. At this point, WAG members were more concerned for the safety of those protestors left behind on the streets outside and around the Mosque. Thankfully, the initially heavy handed and provocative policing gave way to a more hands-off approach as the police realized people were in no mood to be pushed around. There was, however, some arrests and reports of injuries sustained by youths from police truncheons.
WAG members were at all times present on the streets in and around the Mosque (the central focus of people’s attention), talking to people in the crowd and distributing flyers containing basic legal information to those who wanted it and ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with our neighbors against provocation.
One note of concern was that rising tension had seen misdirected anger focused on an unfortunate van driver and a lone “skinhead” who was rescued from an angry crowd by marshalls from the Mosque. It is unclear what exactly the spark for these incidents was but the EDL might like to reflect on such events before deciding on future provocations in the area. Despite these isolated events WAG encountered no hostility, chatting freely with youth from both Tower Hamlets and Newham. It is important to note that despite EDL claims on internet forums Whitechapel was NOT a “no-go area” for white people on Sunday.
With the coming of darkness most people began to head homewards and we hope the nascent friendships formed on day will blossom into productive working relationships in future.
Tower Hamlets, as an economically deprived borough, will suffer more than most in the coming round of cuts promised by the coalition government of Eton-bred elitists. Intolerance and bigotry do not spring up out of nowhere and in a harsh economic climate we need to be on guard against Fascism in whatever form it occurs. The wellspring of unity lies in the common ground that we share and the action we are prepared to take in the fight for a better future for all; regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexuality or religion. Solidarity is our weapon and our message is clear: CLASS WAR NOT RACE WAR!
URGENT: If you or someone you know has been arrested or attacked by the Police during Sunday’s events, write an account of what happened in as much detail as possible and bring it along to the Legal Defence Meeting on Tuesday 22 June, 7pm.
The meeting will take place at London Action Resource Centre (LARC), 62 Fieldgate St, Whitechapel, E1 1ES.
There will be people there to offer help with your case.
Unity Platform Against Racism And Fascism
“Against fascism in all its colours” – statement from Tower Hamlets activists
Author: Nurul Islam and others
The entry of the English Defence League (EDL) into Tower Hamlets to protest against a meeting organized under the auspices of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) is a direct provocation to stir up racial tensions, foment dissent among faiths and attempt to bring disunity amongst the communities of the borough.
We condemn the fascist EDL whose sole objective is to act as storm troopers for the British National Party (BNP) and pick up the pieces for them after their miserable rout in the local and national elections in neighbouring Barking and Dagenham Council. Under the guise of being non-political and upholding “English” values they are propagating a virulent form of naked Islamophobia which is rejected by the communities of Tower Hamlets. We will do everything in our power to defend the peace in the borough, protect the lives of Muslims and ensure that the unity amongst all is maintained.
This borough has a rich tradition of successful challenge to fascist forces of the Blackshirts and the National Front. The Battle of Cable Street in the 30,s and the Struggle for Brick Lane following Altab Ali’s murder in the 70’s and the move to oust Derek Beackon in the 90’s is part of our common history. The values of universalism, anti-racism and no compromise with fascism inform our thinking and has become part of our existence. We will build on this rich tradition as we face Oswald Mosley’s grandchildren.
As we confront the fascist thugs of EDL we in the Bengali and the Muslim community are being asked to stand side by side with Islamic Forum in Europe (IFE). This we refuse to do. The IFE does not represent the Muslim community in Tower Hamlets. They do not uphold the glorious tradition of Cable Street, Altab Ali and the anti racist movement. Under the patronage of an exclusivist Islam emanating from Saudi Arabia they are attempting to impose it amongst the Bengalis in this borough.
Just as the EDL takes the guise of being ordinary English citizen to hide their true identity of fronting the fascist BNP so do IFE act as the sole representatives of ordinary Muslims but are in fact operating under the direction of their parent organisation Jamaat-e- Islami in Bangladesh. It is Jamaat that was party to the massacre of innocent Bangladeshis in the 1971 war of independence that establish the independent state of Bangladesh. A war Tribunal has been established in Bangladesh to try leaders of Jaamat-e- Islam who are IFE’s real ideological and organisational gurus. In other words IFE represent a virulent form of political Islam that is fascistic in nature like Jaamat Islam and verges on the anti-Semitic and is very exclusivist and undemocratic.
In defending the people of Tower Hamlets and especially the ordinary Muslims we do not have to defend IFE. EDL is attacking the Muslims of this borough and we must protect them. IFE must not be allowed to use this occasion to propagate their very reactionary version of political Islam.
We must also alert the entire community about the opportunist and divisive politics of IFE. Using this latest EDL threat to the local community, it is clear to us that the IFE brigade is trying to terrify the most vulnerable in our community – the Bangladeshi women and children into joining their ranks under the banner of ‘defending the Ummah’. It has come to our knowledge that IFE and its operatives have sent out mass e-mails, text messages and visited members of the community including young children in primary schools ask them to join forces and defend Muslims and East London Mosque from imminent threat of destruction.
All progressive forces must realize that the gut reaction to EDL is to defend everybody including IFE because they might be accused of being Islamophobic. But we boldly proclaim that it is not Islamophobic to have no trucks with the heirs of Fascist Jaamat. It is not Islamophobic to denounce the anti democratic credentials of IFE and their Saudi patrons. It is not Islamophobic to show solidarity with the Muslims of Tower Hamlets and their diverse representative organisations without marching under the leadership of IFE. We cannot be consistent in fighting the fascist EDL if we elect the “fascist” IFE as our Imam. In line with the best in the Islamic and Bengali tradition we reject the siren calls of IFE as we prepare to organise against EDL.
On behalf of:
Harmuz Ali (Bangladesh Welfare Association – BWA), Sajjadur Rahman (Brick Lane Mosque), Shamsuddin Shams (Altab Ali Memorial Foundation), Badrul Islam (Centre for Citizenship and Development (CCD), Akikur Rahman (Bangladesh Youth Association), Rajonuddin Jalal (London Bangladeshi Association), Ansar Ahmed Ullah (Nirmul Committee), Mahmoud Rauf (Brick Lane Business Association), Abdus Subhan Gedu (Banglatown Restaurant Association), Ethnic Minority Enterprise Project (EMEP), Abdul Ali Rauf (Chicksand Citizen’s Forum), Collective of Bangladeshi School Governors, Tower Hamlets Parents Centre, Tower Hamlets Parents Association, APASENTH, BYM, Nurul Islam (Kendrio Shaheed Minar Committee), Sundar Miah (Tarling Tenants & Residents Association), Nooruddin Ahmed (Bangladesh Youth League), Ruhul Amin (Progressive Youth Organisation), Taimus Ali (Bangladesh Youth Front), Shahab Uddin Ahmed Belal (Human Rights Secretary, Awami League), Cathy Forrester, Claire Murphy, Phil Maxwell, Terry Fitzpatrick (Blair Peach Project), Syed Sad Ahmed, Fanu Miah (Golden Moon Youth Project), Julie Begum (Swadhinata Trust), Amina Ali (international Forum for Secular Bangladesh), Sujit Sen (Liberation), Gita Sahgal, Subir Sinha, Alice Sielle (St. Barnabas church Bethnal Green), Imtiar Shamim (Muktangon: Nirman Blog), Rayhan Rashid (War Crimes Strategy Forum), Saikat Acharjee (WCSF), Nowrin Tamanna (University of Reading), Anisur Rahman Anis ( Bangladesh Human Rights Council UK), James Swapan Peris ( Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council- European committee), Whitechapel Anarchist Group, Ansarul Haque, Tower Hamlets Muslim Council & Jim Fitzpatrick MP Poplar and Limehouse.
Contact for further details:
Mr. Nurul Islam – 07984 610199 / 07836 332262
On behalf of UNITY PLATFORM AGAINST RACISM AND FASCISM
C/O Bangladesh Welfare Association, 39 Fournier Street, London E1 6QL
An orgy of manipulation
(Counter EDL discussions prior 20th Troxy event)
After the debacle of round one was over with and the first, so called meeting (Sunday 6th of June) held to decide the ins and outs of how exactly we should organise to keep the EDL out of the Whitechapel area at the very least, it was clear from the offset in truth, an open and shut case with the atmosphere of ‘pistols at dawn’.
As the Whitechapel Anarchist Group (WAG) entered early with their close affiliates (Hackney Solidarity Network, Space Hijackers) and took UAF, the SWP and STW by surprise you could sense the tension. After all that crew have become only too well accustomed to dominating meetings and their reputation precedes them.
The star of the show (drum roll please) Weyman Bennett saw it fit to take on all the hard work of ‘thinking’ out of everyone’s hand’s (but except for of course his comrades UAF’s) and already had a flyer prepared and ready to go to print with of course their logo slap bang nicely placed on it, and scoffed at any ridiculous idea of unbiasedly calling the mobilization perhaps even ‘community defence’. After all the term Unite Against Fascism is far more of a crowd pleaser and sentiments from the battle of Cable Street come flashing back – and the cheering crowds cannot resist but to cheer.
But people seem to forget that the battle of Cable Street was mostly between the local community and the pigs, who were protecting the fascists of the day (surprise surprise!), and not liaising with them as Weyman Bennett boasted in front of us. As he put it ‘they even called me Sir!’ when referring to a phone conversation with ‘PC lying through his teeth’.
A lot of feathers were ruffled, but that was to be nothing compared to (ding ding) round two (Thursday 10 of June), where the intimate affair was to expand in number and relocate to a bigger meeting hall this time. An orgy of manipulation manifested as the Anarchists were frequently dismissed and treated with hostility while Respect, SWP, UAF and the IFE chummed up and literally took centre stage.
The speakers at the Troxy (in any event the 20th was cancelled at the venue’s request) who are they? And where do Anarchists stand on the matter? Our stance couldn’t be clearer than our philosophy – if you preach homophobic or sexist ideologies, whether it’s on behalf of you or your ‘GOD’ or not, we do not stand for it! In the true Anarchist fashion we believe in true freedom and expression for all and we adhere to that. ‘Know thy self, harm no-one, do what thou wilt’ is what I go by.
With so many intellectual skinheads in our group (WAG), our analysis of the situation is far more accurate than most would have you believe. In one corner we have EDL supporters responding and call us ‘confused’. Stating on a blog ‘hey what happened to no Gods no Masters?!’ And in the other corner meanwhile we have UAF who deem us as thuggish looking lumpen soap dodgers (clearly their middle class up bringing has had an adverse effect on them somewhat).
Simply put, the EDL first appeared in 2009 at a demo in Birmingham against Islam for UK and sharia law. Like the left and right paradigm you cannot have one without the other. Yes a few of there big dogs are fascist pricks. And yes there are individuals who are attracted by the idea of loyalist mentality with no room for outsiders, but it is dangerously naïve to label all their supporters as such. I don’t have a desire to support any patriotic flag nor the imposition of any religious views, and there are quiet a few others who think as I do. And if voices alike are not effective quickly enough, rest assured more and more will head the EDL’s way if we blindly brand them all entirely as fascists.
Alas ignorance is anything but bliss! And we find ourselves bickering amongst one another and completely forgetting about Mr Bone and class war.
There is no need to get into a greater description of UAF other than concluding it’s made up of a non radical student majority underneath a hierarchical structure who still fail to admit it’s the state’s very existence that’s to be blamed for the divisions. Not the lumpen white working class who do not aspire to be anything else but themselves.
So being regarded, it would seem by a lot of arrogant lefties, as disorganised and inactive where does that leave us Anarchists?…still cracking on of course!. And clearly the issue has not been resolved and undoubtedly will linger on. Viva La Revolution!
The day the EDL didn’t come to Tower Hamlets
In the middle of May 2010 an event was announced for June 20th at the Troxy Ballroom in Limehouse, Tower Hamlets, organised by the UK-IC (UK –Islamic Conference) (1) . The list of speakers was impressive and global including the likes of the Malaysian Sheikh Hussein Lee. And bigots to a man, and of course they are all men. All of them having been quoted as spouting filth supporting violence and rape against women in marriage, killing gays and violent anti-Jewish racism (2). Sadly, instead of an immediate reaction of east London progressives to oppose this meeting, the EDL ( English Defence League) (3) jumped up and said they would march against the meeting. The EDL are an odd crew, a few right wing libertarians ideologically against Islamic conservatism, a few neo-Nazis trying to ferment race riots, but what appears to be a majority who are ‘British loyalists’ i.e. working class conservatives, who support the notion of a ‘Great Britain’ and will fight for that, and who, while ignoring the massive loss of working class power neo-liberalism has wrought on us, are panicked by the almost irrelevant threat of Islamism in the UK. On the one hand it says it is simply against Islamism and the threat to British liberalism brought by that but it’s attacks on Islamism end up looking pretty much like scapegoating all Muslims, deeply dangerous in a period when we need to be united against the state as it attacks.
As soon as the EDL announced they would march, left wing and community activists in Tower Hamlets started to organise against them, but them alone. When trade unionists argued we should link it with opposing cuts they were put down and when socialists and anarchists from the likes of the Whitechapel Anarchist Group (WAG) (4), Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) and Feminist Fightback argued we should oppose all bigotry they were shouted down and accused of racism. So instead of a general community demonstration against bigotry a group was launched, United East End, under the thumb of UAF (Unite Against Fascism) who then called a demo on the same day. (5) Meanwhile though Tower Hamlets Council, fresh from the wipe out of Respect and IFE (Islamic Forum for Europe based at the East London Mosque, controlled a large number of Respect and Labour Cllrs (6) (10) ) at the May election, got the Troxy to sign up to it’s ‘Anti-Hate Crime Agenda’, and on the basis of that the Troxy pulled the conference with a week to go. Immediately the EDL, it’s job done, whether that be anti-Islamism or simply shit-stirring, pulled their demo. Tower Hamlets Council asked EEU/UAF to do likewise but they refused.
In the days before the demo the situation was increasingly wound up by both the EDL, a dozen of who decided to have a drink in a pub by Whitechapel Tube and elicited a massive reaction from local youth in minutes and had to be rapidly escorted, by the police, back down the tube, and afterwards from the local UAF and IFE. It is crucial here to understand that both UAF and IFE, like for the EDL, have an interest in winding up local youth, as they all operate opportunistic political strategies based on recruiting from troubled situations. IFE, the night of the EDL incursion, sent around texts saying Bangla women were being attacked and raped. UAF put out, continually and dishonestly, as they must have known otherwise, that thousands of EDL were going to descend on Whitechapel and that their real target was the East London Mosque (ELM).
More progressively, a couple of days before the event a Unity Platform Against Racism and Fascism (7) of Bangla organisations, like the Bangladesh Welfare Association, put out a statement attacking the fascism of the IFE and arguing there was no basis for unity against fascism with the IFE, a group who were the descendents of the Islamist death squads who had murdered tens of thousands of Bangla nationalists and socialists in their 1971 War of Liberation against Pakistan (8). The UAF reacting in ignorant or opportunistic fury against this statement accused supporters of it of racism. Actually it is deeply racist of the UAF and it’s supporters to treat all Bangladeshis as having the same politics and are not able being able to identify the fascists in their own ranks. n.b. the IFE was disastrously and dangerously given funding by successive Labour Govts, and millions when they ran Tower Hamlets Council, and have used this money to build an ‘empire’ around the ELM. Their politics is as divisive and bigoted as the BNP. Yet it was this group that the Respect Party used as a machine to help get George Galloway elected. Galloway stated “Galloway was recorded as saying that his 2005 election owed “..more than I can say, more than it would be wise for me to say, to the Islamic Forum of Europe.” (11) The British equivalent would be of creating an alliance with unrependent descendents of the UVF/LVF in Ulster.
The day of the march maybe 5000 arrived at Stepney Green for a march to Altab Ali (a young Bangla worker murdered by racists in 1978) Park. The vast majority of them were male Bangla youth, with no more than a few dozen white Leftists. At the start the wound up crowd shouted down a council spokesman and later cheered the inflammatory opportunism of George Galloway (9) (humiliated in the Bow general election). Almost immediately, believing the EDL to be in Whitechapel several hundred youth broke through police lines and ran to Whitechapel but found, surprise, surprise, no EDL. There were EDL in London that day; about 20 had shouted outside the Hilton on Edgware Road, where the Troxy meeting had decamped, and then gone to Whitehall to support the demonstration of One Law For All, an anti-Sharia group based on various Iranian communists and UK libertarians, and opposed on this day by Al Muhajiroun and MAC ( Muslims Against Crusades). Attempting to attack the MAC demo they were quickly arrested and taken away. The 300 youth decided then to march all the way into London to confront the EDL, who by the time they arrived were long gone. Though most on this breakaway march were non religious, elements were and they had wound up the youth so when they arrived in Whitehall they shouted at the OLFA as if they were the EDL!! Later they were pushed by the police to join the MAC group and while some did, most were not interested.
Back at ELM after the main march had gone, the Left had disappeared, though a couple of UAF organisers were in and out of the ELM. WAG had always warned the real danger to Tower Hamlets youth comes from the police (and poor housing/work etc etc) and had stationed themselves near the ELM all day and handed out thousands of Bust Cards to the youth, which proved very popular. Unsurprisingly around 5pm the police attacked the hundreds of youth, who were still in the area, still being told the EDL were still on the way, but receiving a firm response, pretty well withdrew from the streets.
The day showed a Bangladeshi youth who, while they will not take any shit from anyone, have, like the rest of the working class, been lied to by so many people they do not know what to believe. But critically it summed up the collapse and bankruptcy of a Left who, incapable of relating to and organising around peoples everyday interests, survive, just, by opportunism, by winding up youth, by lying and by working with those whose interests are diametrically opposed to working class power, like the IFE. The response of the WAG, and other independent Left supporters on that day, to defend their immediate area, and to support local youth against any attack, was the most mature, a community response that was needed not just there but in the whole of Tower Hamlets that day. It is as united working class communities we will stop those who seek to divide us on ethnicity and religion, as do the BNP and IFE, but also those attacks from the neo-liberal state.
Out on the streets…happy days
It’s impossible to describe events on the streets of Whitechapel on June 20th without looking at the role of Bengali East End youth. They mobilised spontaneously, en-masse, without the dubious leadership of “community leaders” from the mosques or political organisations. Most probably against the wishes of these “leaders” who prefer everything controlled, within acceptable boundaries.
Due to a minor and quickly seen off incursion by the EDL early on in the week, the atmosphere on the streets was electric with tension. In an unprecedented move, the warring local gangs called a truce for the 20th to maximise numbers against the EDL. Can you dig it? Such were the tensions that a late night scuffle took place outside a squatted pub occupied by friends of WAG and local masked up youth. Our friends were mistaken for EDL. This small incident didn’t discourage our friends who are well capable of looking after themselves. They had the guts and determination to be out on the mean streets over the next couple of days distributing WAG bust sheets. This time the reception was enthusiastic and appreciative with no more misunderstandings.
Meanwhile, on the estates, in the schools and on the streets tension remained high. The supposed to be EDL demonstration was causing fear and trepidation among the elderly and very young, fuelled by memories distant and not so distant. Despite the EDL calling off their provocation, many believed, not without reason, they might put in an appearance near the mosque. So the UAF counter-demo went ahead. Therefore WAG and friends were out on the streets along with the rest of the angry local population.
After the rally in nearby Altab Ali Park, the mosque was to be the focus of defence as it was the perceived target of any EDL attack. For WAG, the prime activity was the defence of the London Action Resource Centre (LARC), located near the rear of the mosque in Fieldgate Street. Many from WAG work there, with us hanging a banner reading “EDL GO TO HELL”. We were determined to remain on the streets long after the rally had ended and the leftists retreated to their boudoirs.
The demonstration itself was, unsurprisingly, taken over by hundreds of angry youth who through sheer exuberance and determination transformed it into a militant, uncontrollable force. Hundreds more couldn’t be bothered waiting, breaking away, heading to the rally en-masse. Some were tooled up with placard sticks, ready for action. All of this was beyond the control of the march organisers or the bearded brethren…and of course the police. The demonstration itself was large, noisy and representative of the local population in general. The rally produced the usual hot air from the platform virtually ignored by the milling crowd.
The action switched to the pavements outside and around the mosque. Truncheons were drawn, minor confrontations erupted between youth and police. Nothing too serious though. The crowd on the streets were now overwhelmingly Bengali youth from the gangs, all male. Many of the youth stood about in their territorial groups, sometimes glaring at each other, the occasional pitbull pouting under the glaring sun. The atmosphere was tense and volatile simultaneously.
WAG and friends were mingling with bust sheets, which we were running off a printer at LARC as demand necessitated. As we distributed the bust sheets (and there must have been a couple of dozen of us throughout the day) we encountered no hostility or hassle from the youth. In fact, many were well into the boys and girls, admiring their tattoos, barnets, piercings and the sartorial anti-fashion some of us sport. The bearded brethren did not like this, scowling faces to the fore. They were even more annoyed when the call for prayer went out in the early evening and the youth promptly vanished into the nearby estates for a ciggie or the odd can of booze and a joint. We headed back to LARC for coffee and a fag. The youth and WAG returned to the pavement after the religious stuff was over. It was obvious now that the EDL weren’t showing up, so we all dispersed shortly afterwards.
I guess the day for me can be summed up later when I met a group outside LARC, passing by. They raised their fists in solidarity, one of the cheeky chappies saying to me “Happy days mate, happy days”. No arrests, minor injuries and the EDL kept away. I suppose it was happy days…
A conversation worth having…
One interesting part of what was a long, sometimes boring and at other times way too exciting day, was a conversation I had with a bloke from Bethnal Green by the name of Glen. It must have been around the middle of the day when our team was out on the streets, leaflets / bust cards in hand, waiting for the UAF march to come past when I clocked Glen out of the corner of my eye.
Given the build up to June 20th and the unbelievably tense atmosphere in the area, everyone was jumpy at the prospect of any EDL turning up, even though they had called their counter demonstration off. It was the kind of atmosphere where it was possible in certain circumstances for a working class white East End bloke to be mistaken for an EDL supporter with the consequences that entailed. So when I saw Glen, my first reaction was to wonder what he was doing down on Whitechapel Road. Well Glen started to answer that question when he walked over to me and one of my comrades GH, to ask what was going on.
We gave a relatively brief summary of the events leading up to the day (which are dealt with in detail elsewhere in this pamphlet) up to and including a scathing critique of why the UAF were still going ahead with their march even though there was nothing to march against. After the problems caused by the UAF in the build up to June 20th, it felt good to vent some spleen and get a few things out of my system!
After this, Glen started talking to us about why he was down on the Whitechapel Road – he was under the impression the EDL would still be marching through the area and was interested in what they had to say for themselves. At this point, GH and I were interested to find out why Glen wanted to find out more about the EDL so prompted him to give us the full story. Luckily GH and I both have a background in community politics, both having been in the Independent Working Class Association (IWCA) and have acquired a fair bit of experience of talking to people on their doorsteps about their concerns. A key skill in doing this is to listen, even though you might not like what was being said – then respond based on what you’ve heard.
If Glen was surprised at the willingness of what he assumed to be ‘lefties’ to listen to what he had to say without being in any way judgemental, to his credit, he certainly didn’t show it. His story was that he was a builder and because of the skills he had, a few years ago he was asked to help build a community garden on his estate up in Bethnal Green. This was very much a labour of love but he felt he was giving something back to the community and providing some kind of a meeting place and focus for them. One thing led to another and eventually, he became heavily involved in various activities on his estate, not just with the garden but also a nearby community hall. It was the community hall that was the contentious issue. According to Glen, one of the local councillors said the hall wasn’t being used extensively enough and suggested it could be used as a mosque instead. So a facility that was available for the whole community would end up being used by only part of it. It’s not racist or anti-Muslim to see that this suggestion not only defies common sense but was highly divisive. Glen explained that all he wanted was fair treatment for his community, yet he felt the odds were stacked against that ever happening.
This was a familiar conversation to me in that the issue wasn’t about race or even religion – it was simply a desire for fair treatment and mutual respect which was something Glen felt he and a fair few people in his community weren’t getting. Hence his interest in what the EDL might have to say. It was at this point that having listened to and acknowledged Glens concerns, we turned the conversation around to the bitter fruits of multiculturalism. The bitter fruits are divided communities with different groups set in competition for increasingly scarce public resources. This is not an unintended consequence of multiculturalism – it’s one of its main principles to keep working class communities divided.
If different groups are competing with each other for scarce resources, the blame for not being able to access those resources is going to be placed with the competing group who won out. All the time this happens, the powers that be can sit back and relax that they aren’t the ones in the firing line. As someone who has been unemployed for more months than I care to remember, I pointed down the road towards the towers of the City and said to Glen that the major problems in my life aren’t caused by people from a different religion or culture but by those scumbags down the road. Sure there are problems when people from different cultures living side by side don’t mix or assimilate but they are not responsible for the pay freezes or cuts that I’ve endured or the fact that I can’t find work. As for the argument about immigrants taking work, it’s an economic issue as they are viewed as a source of cheap, easily exploitable labour – blame the system, not the immigrant!
We pointed out that divide and rule is exactly what the powers that be want in the face of an economic slump and drastic austerity measures. Multiculturalism is the perfect vehicle to deliver this and what Glen was experiencing on his estate was the direct result of this – competition for the use of a scarce resource, namely one community centre. Whether we managed to convince Glen or not, I don’t know. Hopefully we have sown the seed in his mind to do a bit of talking and reading to understand what is being done to working class communities like his and how the politics of divide and rule have to be smashed if we are to survive. Suffice to say, we parted with a handshake…
On reflection, this was a tough conversation. However, it’s exactly the kind of conversation we should be having, listening to the concerns of other working class people, taking those concerns on board and then integrating them into our politics. This is no easy task and it involves shed loads of persistence. Yet if we are to build a broad movement of resistance against the onslaught that our working class communities are facing, these are exactly the kinds of conversations we have to have to defeat the divide and rule merchants and build a sense of unity. All in all, this was a conversation worth having…
Learning some lessons…
The EDL were heading to Tower Hamlets because a local venue (the Troxy) would be hosting a conference for extremist Islamic speakers. They were using the Troxy because they’d been refused access to any of the local mosques – they were homophobic, sexist, racist, everything an anarchist movement should oppose.
For the past few months there had been talks between a few of the London anarchist groups discussing the English Defence League – we were unsure about them, instinctively we knew to oppose them, having seen their lot giving Nazi salutes and chanting racist songs at their marches. We’d been meeting to talk about their politics, they expressed ideas we could agree with – against Islamic extremist homophobic and sexist ideology, but enacted them through threatening entire communities with violence on the streets. The more we looked at their politics the more we saw them as a group with its politics based on the Loyalists of Northern Ireland with strands of populist far right, even if we could agree with some of their criticisms of Islam we had no choice but to protest them coming to the area, it was a direct provocation and threat to the majority Asian community of Whitechapel and the many Muslims in the area that don’t support insane preachers.
Whitechapel Anarchist Group would be out to build a militant protest against both the right wing EDL and the mad bastards speaking in the Troxy, it was the only line as anarchists we could take, and it would cause us a load of shit from other groups.
A few weeks before a new social centre had been opened – an old pub called the Pepper Pot – this became the centre for many of our meetings.
Whitechapel Anarchist Group took the lead an called the first meeting – we were shocked, this pub was rammed to high hell, around 40 representatives of various groups from around the London, We had debates about what to do on the day, call outs to make to get others down and discussing what action we should take and how we would take it.
The first plan was to get the Troxy event called off through a serious of complaints to the venue, the next was to write a letter to the EDL telling them there not welcome in Tower Hamlets – them entering the area would lead to our lot trying to get them out. Sadly I don’t think the second part happened, but it was good we were trying out new ideas.
Very quickly it was clear WAG were not the only anarchists doing work – people from Hackney, Haringey, Camden and other spots in London were all taking on a lot of work. The next few weeks would see us meeting most days.
Meeting the SWP
The UAF (a front of the SWP) were calling a meeting, fuck we’d missed our chance! Now they’d be getting ready for the A to B march away from any conflict, but we went along anyway, to try and talk them round to something more militant, find out their plans and to try and get any locals who fancied putting up some real opposition to the two invading group on our side.
We brought a crew of about ten up to this little room in Bethnal Green
We got there ten minutes earlier and took half of the seats in the room, as the rest of the room filled out with trots and a few representatives from the East London Mosque. The trots were shocked at our turnout and we did what we went there for, finding out their plans, (an A to B march away from the EDL of course) they kept talking of Cable Street and how they wanted a safe march, a safe march like the battle of Cable Street, they were fucking nuts…and they seemed to have an attitude that all we wanted was a fight.
The real sticking point was when we mentioned the Troxy, the reason the EDL were heading to the area. There was an eerie silence, they said it was a separate issue and we should on protest against the EDL and no one else… we argued our case but talking with the SWP is like talking to a silver spooned Tory bank manger, they just can’t listen. We left the issue before they started calling us Islamophobic.
We got a few more links with other disaffected groups, mainly the AWL who despite being trots had enough sense to see that the UAF were a waste of time – and a couple of trade unionists who pointed out that the SWP were trying to get the UAF to launch a local “right to work” waste of time campaign.
Still, we left with a touch of hope and got on with our own plans.
Our website was going mental, we were getting hundreds of comments on it every day – the stats showed most of the views were coming from the EDL forum. So I joined the forum, after a few security checks I was on and found a whole topic about the Whitechapel Anarchist Group, strangely enough they didn’t seem to hate us, sure they weren’t positive, but they knew we weren’t the UAF.
From their forums we saw they were planning to march on the East London mosque, right past our hub in the area. We knew we had to be on the streets stopping them. This was relayed back to one of the now many meetings we were having with various people organising opposition on June the 20th.
We spent hours and hours discussing the technical point of every word on a leaflet, it was maddening, we need to get tools, propaganda, working groups, local media contacts all together but instead we kept swirling around the same points again and again and again. This isn’t just a WAG protest it should be called Whitechapel United against Division! – right, sure fine. This word in the leaflet gives the wrong impression! We should go to central London! We should be at the Troxy! Every time an argument finished it would re-surface minutes later. Under the stress of our own long drawn out debates I think we lost the plot a bit, at one count we had nine working groups supposedly sorting out every possible aspect of any action we took. The 60 or so people regularly meeting were getting tangled up in these pointless debates. It was draining and we didn’t need it, as anarchists our greatest strength should have been our ability to work together.
Eventually the plan we came to was the best, protect our area around Whitechapel, be prepared for the EDL to march up from the Troxy to the Mosque, once they’re near use the side streets and alleys, build barricades and stop them from moving. Defend the area with the locals.
There was a second larger meeting be held by the UAF, as before we decided to go down, we were unprepared for the stitch up we were walking into, apparently we’d broken their rules by planning our own action.
The second meeting took place in a larger venue, again we got their early to find around 15 SWP hanging around outside, our 12 stood on the other side of the road staring over, thinking back it must have looked pretty ridiculous to anyone else coming up the road, these two groups of politicos looking like they’re about to do a song from west side story. Then one strolled over to us “socialist worker” came out from his mouth in a dull drone….
Eventually the meeting space was opened up and our lot bombed through the door to get into the hall first and instantly started setting up the chairs in a giant circle. I hate sitting in circles, I can’t get why anarchists love doing it, and it’s completely unworkable in large meetings – of course the SWP wanted the chair set up differently and this led to the first round of shouting at each other, Weyman Bennett even accused our lot of being racist. Finally a chair agreement was come to (everyone staring forward to our SWP masters at the front on a stage).
There were over a hundred people in this meeting, yet again, anarchists had failed to hold the main public antifascist meetings.
Before the discussion even stated our lot kicked off complaining that photos shouldn’t be taken of the hall in case people were identified and attacked from the EDL, this was mental and made us look like we were scared to be identified as antifascists. The chair responded with a personal attack on WAG condemning us for taking a stance different from UAF with SWP’ers shouting that we were Islamophobic for opposing the homophobic, sexist, racist speakers at the Troxy. I’d seen all this before at Stop the War coalition meetings, UAF meetings in Essex and Respect meetings, the SWP attacking anyone stupid enough to voice different ideas to their own. The next few minutes saw a swath of insults thrown at all the anarchists in the room – I walked out a lit a cigarette, planning to walk off after a puff, but to my surprise an old boy joined me, he revealed he was a Leninist but not in the SWP , over a cigarette he said how he agreed with our lot but didn’t want to cause a fuss in the meeting and him and his two sons would be out for a fight on the day. After a few minutes he left both of us on good terms, a moment later another WAG joined me with another leftist behind them, we had the same chat , they liked out view on the matter, after them I spoke to a young Asian member of RESPECT, a young lad from the Socialist Party and then a few locals. I spoke with more people up for a real protest outside that meeting then I ever could have if I’d stayed inside.
All were glad we were there and most were excited about us being out on the day, quite a few knew us from our previous work in the area. They all saw the need for a nice big public demo, but all of them wanted people willing to be out fighting on the day as well, they knew a load of student SWPers weren’t going to be any good against a crew of 5000 EDL, or even any good against a load of riot police.
The meeting stated to finish off just, we were trying to get the WAG’s away but our lot kept running back in have a go at the SWP organisers, it was just stupid, we’d been doing good work in the area but now looked like amateurs screaming because we weren’t getting our way.
We walked off together and had a feedback meeting which a representative from the AWL came along for.
The SWP would be doing an A to B march away from the EDL and far right Islamic conference to a rally point near the mosque then they would be fucking off before anything hairy happened.
This didn’t change our plans, we knew they’d be little chance of us getting to even see the EDL, at the Troxy but they’d been making threats to march up the East London Mosque, that’s when we’d confront them. The SWP could march blindly where ever the fuck they liked, we knew we’d be getting on with the real action on the day.
Then everything changed. The local council propaganda sheet produced a new issue with the front page dedicated to the Troxy venue and how all local venues would not hold any hateful meetings.
We pointed this out to the other groups, put it on our blog (we were know getting hundreds of views everyday) – the hypocrisy of the pledge. The council paper had inadvertently pushed the question of the Islamic conferences extremist abhorrent politics to the central theme of the protests.
A day after the East End Life article, and with mounting pressure from our lot the Troxy cancelled the conference, a day later the EDL claimed they no longer needed to come to Tower Hamlets, claiming that the pressure they placed on the Troxy got it cancelled.
No more religious nuts and no more EDL…it was like losing our chance to shine, no confrontation at all, all that hard work and what the fuck for? Sure, it could be seen as a victory, the area would no longer be invaded and attacked by mad bastards from outside the area, a lot of young people wouldn’t get nicked. But I was kind of disappointed, I was looking forward to a big day in our own area where we knew the streets and places to attack and defend from.
What would we do? Was it worth still marching? Well from the EDL forums we knew some were still thinking about coming down so it would be worth being on the streets, and it was still a chance to get to know some locals a bit better.
The SWP had another plan, they had printed their leaflets saying racists were STILL coming to town to attack Asian people… they wouldn’t let something as simple as their being no EDL put a stop to any anti EDL protest (hell their march was never going to cross the EDL before anyway).
The UAF march was not to defend the community, as the attackers was no longer coming – this was to keep numbers high on their march, sell papers and try to gain a foundation in the area for their “right to work “ campaign. This was the most dangerous and dumbest policy I have ever seen the SWP enact, pretending fascists are coming to the area when they aren’t.
But the EDL did turn up, well only a few of them at Whitechapel tube, they’d been spotted quickly and sent on their way by a few locals. A minor event, but it soon escalated. The EDLs brief cameo transformed every hour, by that night the EDL had come with a mob, raped a girl and killed a boy, there we gangs of kids out on the streets searching for the EDL, one of the groups they found were three punks wearing antifascist clothes – they were chased by a gang of 20 kids, given a bit of a slap and managed to run to our Pepper Pot, where the front windows were smashed in. They’d mistaken their shaved heads as a sign of being in the EDL.
I made my way down to the Pepper Pot with a few other mates to offer support and chat to the kids about how we are not part of the EDL but here to stop any racist attacks in our area. Walking through Whitechapel that night with a shaved head knowing people were being attacked was tense, every street turned was a new twist in my gut, eventually I made it to the Pepper Pot, the people inside had fixed the windows and stuck up a Palestine flag above the door, after a few hours it was clear no one was coming back, but the area was getting tense and violent, the UAF continuing to claim the EDL were on their way only escalating the borderline hysteria.
On the 19th we got ready, we had a communications team ready with spotters, a legal meeting for anyone arrested the next day, and a crew of people of stand at various points, we knew there was only a little chance of the EDL turning up and it would mainly be a quiet day unless the police kicked off with the local hot headed kids but we had to be ready anyway.
The 20th June
An early start, 106 bus to Whitechapel… A quick look around the area, there’s a few undercover cop cars going round, trot paper sellers littering the corners. I grab a Palestinian scarf from the market and jog on to our Social Centre, I was meant to be there at 9 but with the EDL not coming I couldn’t be arsed so got their at 11.
There was a banner hanging from the building, EDL GO TO HELL, a nice touch to remind the local that the skinheads inside aren’t the EDL.
The office was lively, half the room was busy finishing printing off thousands of leaflets which had information about us and a bust card on the back and the other half had internet and phone updates coming in, a map of Tower Hamlets with police positions marked with blue toy gun men, we had scouts riding round seeing what was happening.
The building seemed a little more empty than I hoped, only around 40 people there, most seeming to have not bothered to head out now the EDL were a no show. Most of our lot were already on the streets outside the mosque handing out the bust cards and chatting to the local gangs. Not just kids but really heavy looking youth, there was the mental sight of all the different crews standing around and not fighting, staring or even cursing each other – I’d never seen anything like it in Whitechapel.
I decided I’d march, join the UAF A to B dance and feedback information to our lot, I was bored as hell and figured a quite walk might get me more in the mood in case anything did happen.
On the way I handed out bust cards to any of the heavy crews that approached me, telling them that our lot would be on the streets if anything kicked off with the police, before they could question me about why I was there.
I got to the meeting point and was a bit shocked. It was full of mainly young Asians who were ready to fight the EDL (the SWP hadn’t told anyone yet that there was no EDL). I saw the tubby Weyman Bennett with a crew of SWP security, they looked more like scared students then hard nuts.
The police kept well back and the march burst on to the streets, through the park, along the high street then up New Road and onto the mosque, it took 30 minutes and nothing happened except a lot of shouting. When most people got to the rally point you could see their faces sink, they were being told that the EDL were not around and were clearly gutted there wasn’t going to be a fight. Most fucked off before the rally and hung around on the high street, WAGS went around chatting to them and I watched a bit of the rally.
Same old shit, same old speakers, same old shit – we have stopped the EDL, we are united, battle of Cable Street, it was just bollocks being shouted out to a half listening dwindling crowd.
The speeches must have ended because nearly instantly every trot , paper seller and bearded white student disappeared. I stayed outside the mosque as the mood got tenser and tenser, a kid walked up to me an asked me outright if I was in the EDL, I laughed it off and told why I was there, he laughed as well, after another hour I decided it was time to head off, I got updates from others and left to get the bus.
When I got home I got calls – kids had been involved in a few fights with the police but most had gone to central London and met up with a crew of EDL who had barged their way (under police escort) onto a Turkish Communist March against Islamic extremism. There was a group of Islamic extremists protesting the march and the local kids went up, most joining them. From what I heard there ended up being around four different police kettles for the various shouting groups. Amazingly some of our lot wanted to run up and join this.
I stayed at home.
We had a few more feedback chats over the next few weeks, it was hard to judge how we’d done , with the EDL and Troxy venue not happening I think we all felt a bit half hearted.
What can we learn from the events in Tower Hamlets? I think a lot of the time we put unnecessary stress on ourselves, we didn’t need nine working groups, 80 emails a day and for one local group to try and keep together the anarchist movement’s only response to the EDL and Islamic militancy in London was a burden we could have done without. Maybe it just seems like the stress wasn’t worth it since neither of the group’s turned up, if one of them had we could have at least got a decent day of action out of all the planning.
We have to be organised in large groups that will take action – action has to be the focus of nearly all our meetings, and we can’t be derailed, or be drawn in to petty squabbles with the SWP, we should ignore them and take the initiative with real community based classed struggle politics that’s honest and militant.
Anti-fascism from within the community
The events of June 20th when the EDL proposed a march in Tower Hamlets to confront “Islamic extremism” provide a chance to reflect on wider tactical issues facing antifascist today. Others within this text have already presented a comprehensive overview of both the preceding weeks and the day’s events. Therefore it is not my intent to dwell on the minutiae of organizational detail that went into WAG’s activity on the day but to take a step back and present a short reflexive account of antifascism and why it must return to the community.
When I first became involved in anti-fascism I wouldn’t have guessed that two decades later I would be standing outside a mosque in London’s east end handing out bust cards to young Bengali kids whose communities were still being targeted by racists rather than storming around masked-up looking for crews of the EDL to fight with.
Nor would I ever in my wildest imaginings have foreseen a group that I am involved with being declared “islamaphobic” by the SWP. An important question to ask is: How has a polarization developed between the disenfranchised and alienated, largely working class, EDL supporters on the one side and angry, disenfranchised, largely working class and alienated Bengalis on the other. The answer is that antifascists have abandoned any notion of organizing along radical political lines from within working class communities, whatever the ethnicity involved. The consequence of which has been the almost hegemonic representation of right wing ideologies in some of the most deprived parts of Britain. Alongside this has been a corollary attempt to define radical Islam as the politics of the Bengali community reinforced both by EDL bigotry and the lefts unwillingness to criticize reactionary elements within Islam.
Antifascism needs to return to its roots and take radical/anarchist politics back into the political lives of our often diverse local communities. It must consider a single community defined by class and not divided along lines of ethnicity, sexuality, gender or religion. The reality is that such an approach requires hard work, tact, compromise and a certain amount of rapprochement. To fail to do so is to hand political life to the reactionary elements within communities. When that happens we have lost.
One of my first militant political actions was in the late 80s with the group Anti Fascist Action (AFA). The call had gone out to picket and disrupt the activities of shops in London selling Nazi music and paraphernalia. To a young, pissed off, working class punk well aware of the effects of racism to divide communities (in my home town a slowly decaying industrial sprawl pressed close to the Thames) and the local history of those groups and individuals who had worked hard to defeat it; any manifestation of bigotry and intolerance had to be stamped on, hard. AFA seemed the people capable of doing just that.
Living outside of London my involvement with AFA was mostly on the periphery (Kent AFA, South London AFA) and although I was present at many of the larger set pieces. I missed out on the nitty-gritty hard work undertaken by Red action and the Direct Action movement in and around London. However there was plenty of fun to have outside of the capital and anti fascists were active and efficient all along the Thames corridor from Dartford down to Gillingham. What these all had in common, London down to the hinterlands of Kent was that effective antifascist activity worked best with local contacts and stewards.
AFA have been constantly misunderstood, often deliberately so, by most of the left and even some anarchists. Rather than being a bunch of thugs (as they are often portrayed) AFA well understood that openly Neo-Nazi groups at the time, operating in largely white working class areas desired control of the streets in order to spread propaganda and organize what they regarded as a receptive audience. Rather than accept the “inherent” racism of the white working class as both fascists and some on the left seemed to do. AFA set about its own work within those communities targeted by the right. Contrary to popular belief this did not lead to a strategy of marginalsing or trivializing problems suffered within ethnic minority communities, as these were communities often at the forefront of fascist attention; with quickly changing demographics creating small ethnic minority communities within larger “white areas”. The AFA plan was simple and effective, up until a point: Drive the fascists off the streets and create a political vacuum that other (non AFA) progressive political groups would fill. The first part was achieved with a lot of hard work but a totally fractured and weak left and anarchist movement was either disinterested or completely failed to offer a radical working class alternative to those communities courted first by unashamed neo Nazis and in more recent times by the “reconstructed” BNP and the Loyalists of the EDL.
This failure led to the launch of the IWCA; an attempt by the main political group behind AFA to utilize the existing structure of a militant organization to form the core of a new community based group that would have an electoral presence. The result it is fair to say has had limited success although its premise was not entirely flawed. There are two good reasons why a return to community was not entirely flawed. The first is a political argument and the second is a tactical one.
The argument that anarchists need to return to communities neglected by politicians of all stripes was as resonant in the mid 90’s as it is today. Whole areas have been thrown to the wolves and the damage down by simply inviting people to vote Labour to keep the BNP out has produced a Labour/anti-rascist identification in areas where a perceived betrayal of working class communities by the Labour party (and a lack of a credible alternative) has been driving disaffected voters into the arms of the BNP.
Remember that at the last elections the BNP vote in Dagenham held. What changed was the left getting the Labour votes out. What appears as a great victory for antifascism is in fact nothing more than a sticking plaster over a festering scab. Falling back on the tactic of calling for anyone but the BNP is a dead end tactic. We should already be there as the radical alternative!
Being the radical alternative does not mean that we need to get stuck in the dead end of electoral politics, it means something even harder: Being out on the streets, visible and active in the day-to-day political life of those people we live side by side with. As an example: In my home town during the 90’s those people who were involved in militant anti-fascism were also involved in other forms of community organizing from anti-poll tax activities to exposing corruption amongst the council and police. When we leafleted so called “notorious” estates we felt confident and secure because we lived there, had mates who lived there or the week before we might have been with the same people in court over the poll tax or spoken to them at our regular town center stall. There was only one estate we felt uncomfortable on, but even that didn’t stop us being active there, most importantly supporting a young couple being subject to harassment from a particularly nasty racist family. It wasn’t always pleasant but it had to be done. On one occasion after having delivered an antifascist leaflet on an estate considered problematic for racism a well known local biker came storming down his front garden to confront us. He stopped in his tracks when he saw who it was, un-crumpled the leaflet, apologized and promised to read it. That reaction only happened because of years of hard work put in by local activists some of whom had been active for a few decades by this point. Being part of the community means we can act from within the community!
There are others problems when militant antifascism is dislocated from a base in the community. AFA was already being closely targeted by the police and when the organization No Platform was formed this seemed to go into overdrive. Personal attention from the FIT resulted in activists being trailed around London, constantly harassed, searched, photographed and threatened. This is a common tactic now, about which most activists are too blasé, but one which was disturbing when first introduced. Despite this we maintained a high level of activity and various South London Fascists still bear the scars today. Whilst we scored some notable successes both with No Platform and later Antifa, the tactics of direct police surveillance coupled with vast amounts of CCTV coverage has created a vastly different contemporary political landscape to that familiar to militants in the preceding decades. Leaving little room (in London at least) for the types of large scale militant actions that were once common place. This does not mean that militant antifascism is dead as a tactic but speaks strongly that as a stand alone tactic it has become increasingly problematic. National level antifascist groups are easy for the state to monitor and attempt to neutralize.
It seems a dichotomy presents itself. Militants face the choice to either collapse national organizations into localized clandestine cells, with little above group political representation (in order to minimize the effects of state intelligence gathering), or antifascism becomes a tactic; available to groups as part of a wider co-coordinated anarchist response to fascist activities. WAG tries to encompass elements of both with varying degrees of success. We view antifascism as a tactic which is a natural part of any anarchist activity and need not stand alone. From a base within the local community of Whitechapel we feel confident we have the structures and resources to meet any current threat, be it EDL, BNP or other groups. WAG can not only produce its own propaganda (courtesy of recently purchased printing facilities) but due to our local contacts in various secular and religious groups this propaganda is directly relevant to what is happening on the ground. In this way we can undercut the appeal of right wing groups by being the radical alternative, ALREADY active locally. However we do respect that in the hinterlands of London where the right are more represented this presents a harder task. This is why alongside a propaganda strategy and, just as importantly, WAG has set up London’s first Anarchist martial arts club. Whilst the function of this club is not directly related to antifascism it does provide a good model for other groups serious about antifascism.
Training is not the same as street confrontation but it can provide some of the psychological and physiological mechanisms that underpin the reactions necessary to manage conflict situation. And can help to engender the solidarity necessary to be first in such situations. There are no second prizes on the streets.
So whilst acting from a base within the local community WAG has the option of both physical force i.e. defending our meetings and events alongside other unspecified pro-active activities AND our primary function of political work in the local area. The difference is that unlike other groups we do not see the two as mutually exclusive strategies. Rather we view the one as reinforcing the other and call upon other anarchist groups in London and beyond to get serious, get organized, get training and get out on the streets.
 The preceding statement about the two groups, white EDL on the one hand and Bengali on the other can be misread as equal political sympathy or support to both groups. That is erroneous. A mistake which has seen WAG branded as anything from EDL apologists to actually being the EDL. Our sympathy is inherently with the community under attack. However in order to form a coherent analysis of the EDL we do need to be able to move beyond knee jerk accusations of fascism and recognize that the Muslim community is itself very diverse with both radical and reactionary tendencies. Other contributions have touched on the nature of the speakers at the Troxy so I will content myself with a little historical retrospective.
 For anyone in the SWP reading this please not that is elements within and not Islam itself!!!!!
 There is no better way to understand the position and tactics of AFA than to read their official book “Beating The Fascists” which comprehensively lays out both the theory and militant activity that drove fascism off the streets of Britain