Ben Gidley – who are the English Defence League?

The previous post describes Naomi Chazan’s efforts to bolster a politics of inclusion against the waxing defencism of Israel’s political right and the exclusions it purports to justify.

This substantial piece from Ben Gidley on the Dissent blog Arguing the World, linked from our previous EDL post but deserving a post of its own, brings this endeavour to Britain’s backyard. The piece begins by examining the EDL’s ‘suited’ and ‘booted’ members respectively, proceeds to discuss what feeds the EDL and how it might best be categorised within British politics, and concludes by considering what impact it might have should it become electorally oriented, and how to respond to it in the long-term:

“I genuinely have no suggestions then about the best way to respond to the EDL in the short term, but the nature of the EDL seems to me to have clear implications about how to defeat them in the long term.  In the long term, we need a politics that mounts a robust defense of the best elements of the Western enlightenment tradition against the genuine threat posed by Islamism. If we leave this defense to arch-reactionaries, we’ve failed in advance. One aspect of this is surely to engage with those forces within the communities targeted by the EDL who also care about Western democratic values, which is why campaigns like One Law for All and grassroots organizations like Southall Black Sisters are so important.

Second, we need to foster an ethics of hospitality and solidarity, so that the communities which the EDL seeks to inflame and divide are immunized against their provocations. This means we need to actually make the arguments for the value of immigration, cultural diversity, and religious tolerance. Since 2001 we have generally failed in this. Within Guardian-reading enclaves these values are just taken for granted, while in local and national politics the mainstream Left has been reticent about defending them to the point of silence. The absence of a debate has enabled the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim Right to dominate the discourse while claiming an underdog status in relation to the liberal elite. People who are concerned about the impact of migration in their areas or about the threat Islam might pose are made to feel vaguely ashamed (as with Gillian Duffy, confronted with the prime minister calling her a bigot), but the counter-arguments are simply not articulated. The moment to articulate them is now long overdue.”

An important read.

5 Responses to “Ben Gidley – who are the English Defence League?”

  1. JG Campbell Says:

    “The previous post describes Naomi Chazan’s efforts to bolster a politics of inclusion against the waxing defencism of Israel’s political right and the exclusions it purports to justify.”

    Sorry, Myra, but that’s not quite right. The previous post merely describes uncritically Chazan’s claims along these lines without any attempt to evaluate them.

    After all, while the manner of Im Tirzu’s criticism of NIF earlier this year may have been needlessly unpleasant, that doesn’t mean there was no substance to the criticism voiced by that organization and others.

    Indeed, as I understand it, the criticism was not about NIF or the groups it funds in general, which virtually everyone agrees do a lot of good work to promote inclusion and counter some of the more unpleasant sides of Israeli society.

    It was rather much more specific: a small but significant number of NIF organizations engage in campaigns to delegitimize Israel by calling for it to cease to be a Jewish democracy, falsely accusing it of war crimes, or encouraging people to adopt the BDS agenda.

    As far as I can see, that criticism is both accurate and fair, and whether the people making it are on the left, centre, or right of democratic politics is neither here nor there.

    What is important, however, is that Chazan hasn’t yet satisfactorily addressed that specific criticism. And until she does, it’s reasonable for people to reconsider whether they want to continue donating to NIF.

    Best wishes,

    JG Campbell

    • Mira Vogel Says:

      Hiya Jonathan – just quick, I agree that just because a group or individual is right wing, it doesn’t mean they are incapable of recognising or telling the truth about anything.

      I feel about the NIF in much the same way as Rosie (commenting on Harry’s Place somewhere I can’t find right now) feels about Amnesty International in the light of their CagePrisoners adventure:

      “Yeah – people have been saying, “cancel your subscription” or “threaten to cancel unless Gita is re-instated”. I’m loath to do that unless I know that Amnesty is totally compromised. If 95% of what they do is what they should be doing, and 5% is monkeying around with the likes of Begg, well that’s 95% good work. You get the same about the BBC. A dim-witted, biassed programme gets made and everyone starts howling that the BBC should be carved up and the pieces handed over to Rupert Murdoch.”

      There are definitely different qualities of criticism of NIF, and it’s important to uphold the kind of criticism that strengthens it, while being aware that it is currently on the end of an almightly kicking in Israel from groups who will try to coopt the NIF’s better critics if they do it wrong.

      • JG Campbell Says:

        Thanks, Myra, and I pretty much agree with what you’re saying here. I suppose the $64,000 question is how bad do things have to get on any given issue within an institution – trade union, political party, religious denomination, charity, NGO – before we decide it’s time to abandon ship, either as individuals or en masse? In this particular case, because things are looking so bad for Israel at present, I have sympathy on balance with those arguing that we can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to what some NIF organizations are doing. Jonathan

  2. Lawz Says:

    If the far-Right are trying to get an ethnic minority group on side, the chances are they aren’t doing it for any nice reason – more like trying to make themselves appear respectable in the eyes of the law.

    Often, these thugs have very little sense of loyalty to anyone, let alone a racial group they’d rather didn’t exist*

    *= Look up Griffin talking about gas chambers and lamp-shades, and his book Who Are the Mind Benders.

    • Thomas Venner Says:

      Nick Griffin and the BNP aren’t actually directly involved with the EDL (not openly, at least, though there is considerable evidence pointing to strong links and various financial dealings – I think Searchlight Magazine have some more detail on that). It’s important not to conflate the two organisations together completely, because this gives the EDL a perfect defence against its critics, i.e. by pointing out that they have no “official” links with the BNP and thereby nullifying the rest of the criticism, dismissing it as a case of “mistaken identity”, or even playing the persecution card and pretending that they’re the victims of some sort of plot to brand them as the Nazis they claim they’re not. I don’t mean in any way to pick holes in your argument, so I hope it doesn’t come across like that, I just think it’s important to be careful about these sorts of details so we can keep making a watertight case against the EDL (and on the subject of the EDL’s anti-Semitism, I’ve already posted some observations made by a friend of mine about their supposed “support” for Israel in the other thread, in case you’re interested).

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