UK Politics

Dissent on the EDL

Ben Gidley had a wonderful piece on the English Defence League at Arguing the World, the blog of Dissent magazine. Below I copy the first few paragraphs.

Who Are the English Defence League? And Are They Fascist?

In the last thirteen months, a totally new political phenomenon has taken to the political stage in the UK. The English Defence League (EDL), along with its offshoots in Wales and Scotland (the Welsh and Scottish Defence Leagues) appeared in the spring of 2009. Its marches mobilize thousands of people but it has no clear agenda, apart from disliking Islam and defiant patriotism.

Despite the completely novel nature of the EDL, its opponents have little trouble in understanding it through the prism of the longer standing and more conventionally far right British National Party (BNP). Organizations like Unite Against Fascism have demonstrated against the EDL, calling it a fascist or Nazi organization. More recently, there has been some controversy on the Left when a Jewish Division of the EDL wasalleged to have supported a Zionist Federation demonstration of solidarity with Israel in the wake of the Gaza flotilla events. The occasional brandishing of the Israeli flag alongside the flag of England’s Palestinian patron saint, George, has caused consternation among anti-fascists. So, what is the EDL? Is it fascist? And what’s with the Israeli flags?

The EDL is a somewhat unstable organization ideologically, because it brings together two very different trajectories, each one internally quite heterogeneous. One trajectory—let’s call it the suited wing of the EDL—draws from the growing and complex web of what I think of as “clash of civilization” organizations. These are the aggressively pro-Western anti-Islamic anti-multicultural currents which are flourishing in Western Europe and North America, operating at a reasonably high intellectual level compared to the traditional far Right, best represented by the EDL-linked Stop the Islamisation of Europe (SIOE). Many of these groups exist more in cyberspace than in the real world, and a number of websites, such as Gates of Vienna, have played a key role—but there have been plenty of real world manifestations too, such as the Pro-Koln movement in Cologne.

These currents are generally fairly middle- or even upper-class, and combine traditional patriotism with varying degrees of pan-European or pan-Western consciousness. They tend not to be interested in race and ethnicity, but focus entirely on culture and especially religion. They are diverse: they range from fairly conservative to fairly liberal and libertarian, between those with a strong commitment to traditional Christian (or Judeo-Christian) values and the militantly secular, and finally from a more moral majority type outlook to a strong defense of gay rights and women’s rights. There is also fairly strong support for Israel, and probably some Jewish people; Israel is seen as an outpost of Western civilization on the front line against Islam.

It would be wrong to call this diverse current fascist. It is broadly speaking on the Right, but lacks most of the key features that define fascism—for example, it is not particularly authoritarian, it has little or no interest in race, it is not drawn to elaborate conspiracy theories, to charismatic leaders, to uniforms or to bizarre mystical thinking, and, of course, it is not antisemitic.

Now  read the whole thing.