Tab Tried: Political Extremism

And now JACK EMMINS just wants to go home.

Christ's College edl English Defence League Eton Findus kingfishers Lacrosse Sophie Scholl. White Rose UAF unite against fascism

Dust clouds settle and march weary feet are resting. It won’t be passing unnoticed that Cambridge’s journalism has devoted itself to the protests of last week.

Yet the various groups who organised these marches predate those actions, and no doubt will continue to exist beyond them. Given this enduring presence, it felt worthwhile exploring the character and value of these groups, given my previous writing on political extremism.

Of course we must acknowledge the cause of all the heated rhetoric and action. If the far right hadn’t reared its ugly head, we wouldn’t have had a protest. But if I was to use such an equine metaphor, I would feel obliged to mention that the horse is lame, and almost certainly bound for the Findus abattoir.

On Saturday, twenty-five drunken males urinated against Christ’s College before wandering off to buy crisps, all kindly supervised by at least that number of riot police, some of whom were sitting one thousand feet up in a helicopter. On the preceding Tuesday, a middle aged female politician entered a private members club to speak unconvincingly in a foreign language about politics in a country that lots of us can’t vote in, and she too enjoyed protection. It seems the “far right” achieved nothing more than an interesting insider perspective on police protest liaison.

So when the Unite Against Fascism event page on Facebook received a post comparing the enemies of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose movement to the ones they “faced” now, I felt the first strange pangs of unease.

Given my own earlier claims, I thought I should probably walk the walk and attend the protest, but I soon found myself wishing I could have nothing to do with the anti-fascist movement. “Who protects the Nazi Scum?” asked the megaphones. “Police!” laughed the crowds.  On Petersfield the musicians reminded us that this day was about “standing up to the police”, but I had only felt sorry for them as they were pushed and abused by people attempting to break into the debating chamber. Many of the crowd by the Union had cheered.

Just doing their job

When I walked to the EDL “protest” only about half the riot police were dealing with the inebriated hooligans and their lonely flag. Perhaps they were protecting the Nazi scum, but from whom? As the counter march was carefully martialled around Christ’s Piece, it became rather obvious.  Suddenly the superiority that the anti-fascists claimed for their cause was shattered. I saw only people who were rather too pleased with themselves. Speeches hijacked the gathering for personal grudges and far less black and white causes. Concessions were made to elements of our society that I do not think many people are prepared to make so quickly. I witnessed a pointless, even insulting approach to politics.

As a song about religious tolerance opened the meeting, Islamic protesters sung calls to prayer over a Sikh leader’s speech in a confrontational move that made me feel more uncomfortable than I’d been all term. My friend and fellow protestor was casually insulted for his education by a woman who wanted to blame the “Eton Tory Scum” for “all this”. The Cambridge University students who went to more minor public schools cheered with her.  Multiculturalism was praised loudly, and I’m surprised we didn’t sing “we will overcome” and the Internationale.

Counter protest or counterproductive?

Yet it isn’t 1935, or 1939, or even late sixties West Germany. I was surrounded by anachronistic calls to arms, as if the International Brigades were still begging for volunteers. Why did anyone care who the xenophobic, drunken and obviously ignorant EDL were? Why did anyone do them the service of necessitating police protection and media coverage? Who assumed we all needed to be told their political views aren’t sensible? The end of the Cold War, Apartheid and the Century accompanied the disappearance of a student body that would reliably mobilise against injustice. Perhaps this isn’t coincidence.

If I could say in my heart that marching against the EDL deserved the praise due to Hans and Sophie Scholl, who were summarily guillotined by a paranoid crazed establishment in its death throes, or even those five Cambridge men who believed their defection could stop the onward march of totalitarianism, then I would not be writing in criticism.

But even though I do not like any embodiment of fascism, I will not be pretending to myself that a weekend confrontation is worth much. I do not derive worth, nor make others feel inadequate by my own submission to the ghastly ranks of the ultra sincere.

As it happens, just as many people went to watch the Lacrosse. I feel somehow that history will remember the Kingfishers’ excellent early victory more than it shall this sideshow to politics in the United Kingdom.

Pictures courtesy of Tom Porteous