The concluding part of our interview with Daniel discusses the EDL, Islamophobia and the changing language and tactics of Far-Right groups
“What the Olympics opening ceremony shows us is that it is very easy to tell stories that represent the reality of Britain and our rich multicultural history, and that when you do tell these stories they have immense popular appeal. And when there’s such an obvious groundswell of support, it forces politicians and the media to play along too."
Daniel Trilling is the Assistant Editor at the New Statesman and is the author of ‘Bloody Nasty People: The Rise of Britain’s Far-Right’.
‘Bloody Nasty People…’ charts the rise of the BNP over the past 10 years and details the emergence of the English Defence League. The book also explores how mainstream politicians have underestimated the far-right in Britain and while pursuing policies that have contributed to the growth of far-right movements.
Daniel is also a member of SRtRC’s Writers Against Racism and we were able to speak to him recently about the Far-Right, the EDL, immigration and how it is debated.
In part three of the interview, we talked to Daniel about the EDL, Islamophobia and the changing language and tactics of Far-Right groups.
Looking at some of the positives of immigration, what did you think of Danny Boyle’s Opening Ceremony for the Olympics as a celebration of multiculturalism?
“It is incredibly important to present some positive messages at this time. The main reason the BNP failed was that the Britain that they depicted does not exist in the eyes of the vast majority of people who live in this country.
“What the Olympics opening ceremony shows us is that it is very easy to tell stories that represent the reality of Britain and our rich multicultural history, and that when you do tell these stories they have immense popular appeal. And when there’s such an obvious groundswell of support, it forces politicians and the media to play along too.
“These things can also go backwards, unfortunately: witness how some of the same newspapers that praised the achievements of Britain’s diverse athletes during the Olympics were blaming multiculturalism for the horrific murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich earlier this year.”
Are you surprised that parties like the BNP and groups like the EDL now recognise that they can’t get away with purveying the overt racist attitudes that they used to?
“I think that it is testament to the success of the anti-racist movement and one of the reasons why I felt that it was worth writing a book on this subject. When a party like the BNP is having to change its language and start claiming that it isn’t racist, it tells you something about the way Britain has changed, or at least some of our ideas have changed.
“But it leaves us in an ambiguous situation today. Everyone can agree that racism is ‘bad’, yet there’s a reluctance to accept that structural racism persists, or that ‘good’ people can be complicit.
“Take the example of Doreen Lawrence: she was part of a campaign that spent years trying to force the British state to face up to institutional racism. Now, her achievements are - quite rightly - praised across the political spectrum.
“Yet contrast that with the complete lack of reaction to the coroner’s report on the death of Jimmy Mubenga, who was killed during an attempt to deport him to Angola. The report identified a pervasive culture of racism among the employees of the private contractor responsible for the transport of deportees and whilst individuals were shown to have been sharing racist jokes or holding racist attitudes, it also highlighted that the entire system is structured in a way which is damaging to the people in receipt of this ‘service’.
“We’ve been told over and over again that we need to talk about immigration; the death of Jimmy Mubenga and countless other incidents show that we also need to be talking about racism.”
You mentioned Greece, and Golden Dawn are a particularly worrying development, especially their policies on providing aid together with martial arts training and violent, fascist propaganda – what are your thoughts on them?
“They are alarming because they are so open about the things - neo-Nazism, violence - that many far-right parties tried so hard to hide for so long. But underneath that the techniques that they are using to gain popularity and win support are not that different to other far-right parties. It’s all about focusing on community grievances and positioning yourself as an alternative to the system. They argue that the whole system is rotten and corrupt and that they are the only ones who stand up for ‘real’ Greeks. It’s about hoodwinking people into believing they have an answer to the crisis.”
The issue of Islamophobia is receiving a huge amount of coverage at the moment and groups like the EDL are founded on that type of prejudice. What do you think this means for society?
“You quite often hear supporters of the EDL say “how can we be racist? Islam is a religion and not a race, therefore we are not racist”. On the face of it, that seems like a simple proposition. But in fact it tells us a lot about how racism is misunderstood in mainstream British culture.
“If you look at Islamophobia, there is a very big difference between legitimate religious criticism or a healthy debate about the value of religion and when something is genuinely racist. The EDL may claim to oppose Islamist extremism; a position that most people in Britain, including most Muslims, would share. Yet if you look at the way in which the EDL constructs its propaganda, it targets Muslims, not Islam; it targets the people not the idea.
“The EDL’s propaganda is built on stories about Muslims that touch on physical, visceral issues. This includes cases of child abuse, or claims that Muslims have ‘banned’ people from eating certain types of food, or about disrespecting British soldiers who have been killed in Afghanistan. Or the focus is on the birth rate among Muslim people and how this is ‘out of control’. These are all issues of the body; they are about death, or sex, or food, and the cumulative affect of this is to present Muslims as a fundamental threat to ‘our’ existence.”
“All of this is just classic racist propaganda; it’s not about religion or faith, its about drawing a cordon around one particular group who have certain shared characteristics and excluding them from the rest. That is racism and the fact that it purports to be based on someone’s religion rather than their skin colour does not stop it being racism. “
There is a debate about how you combat the EDL. To what extent do you support an ‘on-the-streets’ approach over dialogue?
“If a group gathers en-masse and attempts to physically intimidate a particular community, or neighbourhood, or town, then people have every right to come out onto the streets and block its path. But that alone is not enough: while it’s vital to show that the EDL does not speak for anyone but itself, you also need to engage with people tempted to support it.
“This wider group of people may be uneasy or unsure about certain aspects of Islam and are looking for answers, or they may be angry about the murder of Lee Rigby, for example, and the challenge is to work with these people, in the hope of reaching an understanding that a whole religious or ethnic group are not to blame for the actions of a few. It is important to highlight that Britain is a place where people can negotiate their differences and can thrive together.”
Part one of our interview with Daniel, discussing the rise of the far-right is available here
Part two of our interview with Daniel, focussing on how immigration is discussed in the UK can be found here