Posted Under: Civil Liberties,East London,Islamophobia,Protest
On Saturday one of my fellow Third Estaters (I’m assuming Reuben) tweeted:
Definitely don’t think the left should be calling for a state van [sic] on the EDL march
While compelling, I think this view is seriously mistaken. Granted, it’s always a good idea to be wary of calling on the State to do anything which limits either civil liberties or freedom of expression, given the countless occasions when it’s proved itself willing to do so in unjustified and harmful ways. And yes, the recent riots have given rise to a volatile political environment in which any number of unpleasantly authoritarian measures are far more politically viable than they were just a few weeks back. Even before the riots concerns were being raised about the criminalisation of political protest, from the anti-royalist demonstrators at the Royal Wedding I linked to above to the UKUncutters arrested at Fortnum and Mason’s in March. You don’t have to be a die-hard liberal defender of the principle of “I disapprove of what you say…” to think that this isn’t a tendency we should be doing anything to encourage.
There are, though, a couple of very important counter-considerations. The first is that banning the Tower Hamlets EDL march wouldn’t exactly be an unprecedented step. The English Defence League has already been banned from holding marches at least three times in the past couple of years – in Luton, Bradford and Leicester. Whether those bans were right or wrong, a ban on the proposed 3 September protest wouldn’t be sliding further down the slippery slope of authoritarianism, just a continuation of the same policy towards the EDL that’s always existed; letting them demonstrate as they please, except when practical concerns about the likely consequences of a march are judged to outweigh the right to freedom to protest – and the second counter-consideration is that in this case such concerns are very well-founded indeed. It’s hardly a secret that EDL demonstrations have a strong tendency to turn violent. How likely is it that an EDL march through a largely Muslim area less than a month after the worst riots the country’s experienced in decades is going to pass off peacefully? (As an aside, I’m well aware there are some on the left, whether they openly admit it or not, who are quite keen on the idea of a ruck with the EDL, but suffice to say that while I’m not such a naïve liberal that I think violence can’t ever be justified when it comes to countering the far right, actively desiring that it occur is stupid beyond belief.)
There are real and pressing concerns about the growth of State restrictions on political protest in the UK, but they pale into insignificance compared to the danger of serious violence if the 3 September march goes ahead. I don’t relish being in the position of calling on the government to shut down yet another political protest, but it’s by far the least worst option.