More perceptive readers of this blog may have noticed a number of stickersappearing round the streets of the east end recently. They depict a rainbow circled and crossed out with GAY-FREE ZONE (erm…really?) and other thinly-veiled homophobic threats that claim to be referenced to the Quar’an: “Arise and warn”, “And Fear Allah; verily Allah is severe in punishment”.
Now, the author of this article hasn’t read the book himself, so wouldn’t want to speculate as to the original context of such quotes, but it would probably be safe to say that these stickers were produced by an individual or group with a right-wing interpretation of Islam. However, some people do believe it could be the work of the English Defence League (EDL), looking to create an opening for themselves in an area where they have never been able to officially organise their anti-muslim, nationalist message. This is certainly possible, but unlikely in this instance.
Now, whilst WAG have been getting stuck in with other members of the community in defacing these vile attempts to intimidate queers and threaten everyone into a state of sexual repression, sometimes ripping down stickers just isnt enough.
Which is why the author generally applauds the initiative taken by “a group of six friends” who are organising the “East End Gay Pride” (EEGP) march in response to the increase in homophobia on the streets of E1 and surrounding areas. The group claim to be completely politically non-aligned, which is a refreshing change: just ordinary people organising in their communities to engage with issues that affect them.
However, there remain a few comments that have to be made about their attempt to actively de-politicise the demonstration in the face of the possibility of the English Defence League using this as an opportunity to gain some kind of legitimate cover to enter Tower Hamlets – or the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) attempting to turn it into a paper sale to pay for the wages of the ruling class fuckwits in their Central Committee. Whilst the organisers of the demo clearly share WAG’s suspiscions about the EDL’s motivations when they claim to bang the drum for sexual freedom or Unite Against Fascism (UAF) when they parachute into communities claiming to fight the good fight; the solution is not to attempt to masquerade what is, essentially, a political response to a political problem as a benign and apolitical lifestyle event. Read their Statement of Intent here to get the full picture.
And so, in the interest of neighbourly political discourse, this is the response of one east end Anarchist to some of what they considered to be the more contentious issues.
“Organisers of EEGP are not concerned with WHO is responsible for the stickers or indeed, WHY.”
– Whilst this may have the noble intention of keeping anti-muslim nutters at bay, it is a strategy based on the lowest common denominator that has been pushed by the liberal anti-fascist left (UAF in particular) for far too long with disastrous effects. Whilst, of course, homophobia is a social phenomenon that crosses all cultures and beliefs and is in no way confined to any one group in Tower Hamlets, we cannot ignore what has galvanised this campaign into existence – namely, that fascistic elements of political Islam (or possibly EDL) are opportunistically using homophobia as a means of promoting division and exerting influence over a geographical area where they seek to establish greater power. For this is a tactic all fascists use in their bid to become our masters – whether it is the racism of the British National Party, the anti-semitism of the National Front or the anti-islamic nationalism of the English Defence League. Wherever conservative or reactionary sentiments exist, you can guarantee there will be some group of aspiring dictators attempting to exploit them. We must, therefore, seek to understand who is responsible for any fascist activity in our communities and the complexities of their political trajectory in the hope of building more refined arguments and more effective responses to their activity. We can’t win a fight against ignorance with further ignorance: we need radical, yet articulate, solutions.
“…We feel that is the responsibility of the local police and other authorities – not ours.”
– The Metropolitan Police are one of the most obnoxious police forces in the UK. They are known for their institutional racism, sexism and homophobia as well as being one of the most advanced forces for the surpression of political dissent in the liberal-democratic west. As people organising against injustice, brutality and repression the Police and all the official institutions of governmental power can offer us no real solution. Whilst the author is pleased the organisers of EEGP have clearly never experienced the true nature of policing first-hand, they would do well to look at the way the Met behave when stopping and searching people in the street, which demographics they target and how frequently it happens. Maybe EEGP could start talking to people on the streets in the east end about their experiences with policing – people in working class areas, not gentrified Shoreditch. Would these people call the Police in case of a homophobic attack? Would you if you were in their position? Are we – as people engaging in self-organised community politics – happy to call for greater state intelligence gathering on the whole, even if it is, albeit temporarily, for use against our enemies? Furthermore, the idea that we can rely on local authorities to understand and address complex issues on our behalf at a time when they cannot even maintain social housing, healthcare, social care and welfare is naive. When they do materialise, the reality of such interventions by the local authorities is simply a shallow and tokenistic attempt to capitalise on the activities of grassroots, self-organised initiatives like EEGP and turn them into vote-winners for our existing masters. It alienates and insults a huge section of the population of the east end to take such a pro-police and pro-state stance and then claim that the demonstration is in no way political. These are very political issues for many of us.
“We do not aim to ‘point the finger’ or apportion blame to any individual or group.”
– Whilst it is clearly the sentiment of EEGP to avoid a hysterical anti-muslim hate campaign, it is suggested that this situation is best avoided if the people of Tower Hamlets know exactly who is responsible and it is not left to opportunists and hatemongers to decide for them.
This particular Anarchist would also like to remind the organisers of EEGP (assuming that they are who they say they are, which seems to be the case) that it was not the Police or the local authorities that organised this demonstration but themselves. It was not born out of their desire to ignore the stickers and the attacks, but to address them. In choosing to take action of this kind, they opened up the issue for further debate, action and possible resolution. These issues are complex and ugly, but to narrow and limit the field of debate out of a desire to wish these ugly complexities away is dangerous and irresponsible. To paraphrase Vaneigem, those who only make half a revolution dig their own graves. Of course the organisers of EEGP dont want their event to be hijacked by the Socialist Workers Party, Unite Against Facism or the English Defence League. However, they run the risk of making exactly the same mistakes the UAF have been making for years by mirroring their tendency to shut down debate in favour of race-to-the-bottom reductionism and semi-redundant gesture politics.
Similarly, by asking people to bring pink union jacks to wave, they are legitimising and subsequently reinforcing the same nationalist and loyalist sentiments of LGBT people that the EDL prey upon. EEGP cannot encourage people to wave union jacks on a demonstration, unwittingly offering perfect cover for EDL infiltration and then claim it isnt the place for politics.
It is with this in mind that the organisers of EEGP should rethink their anti-political line. Radical queers and militant anti-fascists of the east end will assert their right to march and contribute to the debate with as explicit a political position as they choose. It is hoped the organisers of EEGP will welcome this on the day, instead of selling their own initiative out to the mainstream, corporate ‘London Pride’ agenda.
Fuck the pink pound and all other symbols of assimilation into capitalism and other inherently repressive structures – we need radical social change to achieve true sexual liberation for all those who want it.
East End Gay Pride will be assembling at 12pm, 2nd April, King Edward VII Memorial Park in Glamis Road, E1.
AMENDMENT: Upon reading the statement from “Out East” (here) the author is concerned about claims that organisers of EEGP have actively invited EDL members. However, the author does not believe the solution lies in there being no militant anti-fascist or radical queer presence on the day: it simply means that people must be prepared to use their initiative and mount a robust and dynamic defence of their community from division. Whitechapel United Against Division #2…? Maybe so.