Yesterday there was a rally by the English Defence League in Birmingham. I hadn't intended to be there, but I was caught inside a police cordon while walking home after meeting friends. Since I had little other choice, I decided to stay and observe what was happening.
The EDL is described in the press as a right wing racist organisation. They are certainly very vocal in their opposition to Islam. The EDL are put on a level with the British National Party. However, some people that I respect as independent thinkers, such as Pat Condell, disagree with this picture of them. I pride myself on my ability to make up my own mind, so I sat on the sidelines and watched and listened.
My first impression, as the EDL members walked to Centenary Square, was negative. Rather than a political rally it had the atmosphere of a football match. People were singing loudly and unintelligibly. I was amused that the EDL chant, "Eee, Eee, Eee Dee Ell" sounded identical to the ridiculous left-wing student chant of the sixties and seventies: "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh". The lowest common denominator of all populist movements is a mind-numbing repetitive chant.
After arriving at Centenary Square the police boxed in the EDL rally on all sides in a tight cordon. To me this smacked of police brutality, but I soon realised that this was necessary. On the same day there was a rally of the UAF (Unite Against Fascism), a loose amalgamation of left-wing and pro-Islamic groups, in Chamberlain Square, on the other side of the old Birmingham Central Library. They were marching towards Centenary Square in an attempt to disrupt the EDL rally. The police did an excellent job in keeping them away. As an act of provocation, it would have been successful. Some of the more hot-headed EDL members tried to get through the police cordon by breaking into an adjacent building site (the new Birmingham Central Library). This led to the only violent clashes that I saw. When the police tried to protect the building site they were attacked by EDL members who threw bricks at them. The police held them back firmly but fairly, and the skirmishes only lasted a few minutes. When things had calmed down EDL's own stewards formed a second line in front of the cordon, appealing to their members for calm.
The peace in the square gave me a chance to listen to the speeches. That was what interested me most. I also had an opportunity to speak with a few people. It soon became apparent that the EDL is a non-political movement. Even though the speakers were quick to point out faults of the ruling parties, they have no political aspirations of their own, unlike the BNP. They see themselves as a voice of reason, calling on people to use their common sense and stand up for democracy, law and order. They don't want to change the laws, they want the existing laws to be applied more stringently.
I saw no evidence of racism in the meeting. The majority of the visitors were white, but there were also black supporters (presumably of Caribbean origin) and a very noticeable EDL Sikh division. This was significant to me, not just because the Sikhs aren't white, but because they follow a different religion. The EDL is open to people of all religions, as long as they accept British (or rather English) law and order. The Sikhs are well known for this. During the time in which India was a British colony, the Sikhs were the ones who recognised and embraced British culture. There are currently many Sikhs in England who are members of the army and police force. Compare this with the very small percentage of Pakistani Moslems who serve in the police or army. (Pakistan was a part of India that split away after India's independence).
The EDL are not only tolerant to other races and religions, they also accept alternative lifestyles. One of the speakers was openly homosexual, and he affirmed the right of people in England to be gay if they want to. This is in contrast to Islam, which calls for all homosexuals to be killed.
Yet another speaker expressed solidarity with Israel. He contrasted this with the standpoint of both Moslems and the UAF. Over the last 30 years anti-Semitism has become prevalent in left wing groups, using the alleged theft of Palestinian land as an excuse. The EDL is the true voice of tolerance in England.
All movements attract a violent fringe. After the end of the rally I witnessed a group of youths donning masks. An older man approached them and told them to take off their masks. He said that they were a shame to the EDL and didn't know what the EDL stood for. I was impressed to see that the young boys, all aged about 16, obeyed him. That was the one occasion when I broke my neutral stance. I spoke with the man, praising him for what he had said. The EDL is a peace movement, a movement that opposes hatred on all sides, both inside and outside of their movement.
On the other hand, if you read the headlines in the official press you get the impression that the reporters were at a different meeting. The BBC writes "EDL Birmingham protest: Bottles thrown at police". The Huffington Post writes "Police arrest 20 during English Defence League rally". If you read that you must think that it was all about violence. I was at the meeting for over three hours, and the outburst of violence lasted a few minutes. Is that all the reporters saw? Is that all they wanted to see? The news reports don't mention the content of the speeches at all. They don't write that it was a happy meeting of racial harmony. Why was this? I think it's because the reporters were prejudiced. They made their mind up beforehand what they wanted to write, and when they arrived they pounced on any small occurrence that backed them up.
My conclusion is that the EDL are not racist. They are not Fascist. They are not even right-wing. They are being targeted by the UAF because left-wing groups hate their pro-Jewish and pro-tolerance stance. They are feared by the general public because the media is painting them in a false light. I advise my readers in England to go to their next rally and decide for yourself. Make up your own mind. It doesn't mean that you have to become a member. I don't intend to join the EDL, I prefer to stand back, watch them and tell the truth as I see it.
Please watch this video by Pat Condell. Unlike me, he hasn't had the advantage of visiting an EDL rally in person, but he puts across his views more eloquently than I possibly could.