Hundreds of anti-fascists formed part of the Unite Against Fascism presence outside Downing Street on Monday 27 May. Whilst the EDL had a presence of around 800 people, this is primarily due to their exploitation of the hostile climate that has seen Islamophobic attacks at ten times their average rate in the days following the horrific murder of British Army Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich. The need for a broad alliance against fascism and Islamophobia could not be more pressing, and UAF was able to mobilise a broad, representative event at short notice, because there are many who are concerned by, and wish to challenge the hostile climate of Islamophobia which has developed.
A number of speakers addressed the protest, offering condemnation of the killing of Lee Rigby and condolences to his family. Jeremy Corbyn MP called for an end to scapegoating of ethnic and religious minorities , Steve Hart (Unite the Union) highlighted that there have been over 100 racist murders since 1993, a chiling reminder of where racism leads. British Muslim Initiative speaker Mohammed Kozbar spoke of how the government must have an open dialogue with the mainstream Muslim community if it is to effectively confront extremism and Islamophobia. Shabbir Kawsar, representing the Muslim Council of Britain, expressed condemnation of the murder of Lee Rigby and highlighted the upsurge in Islamophobia and thanked UAF for its solidarity and support. Azad Ali (Islamic Forum Europe) raised concerns that the Government’s approach of focusing on the Muslim community would only perpetuate the decade-long stigma of initiatives like Prevent that have treated Muslims as a suspect community. Varinder Singh (Sikhs Against the EDL) provided a reminder that the Sikh community was targeted after 9-11 and in the Wisconsin Gurdwara shootings, and offered full solidarity with the Muslim community. Zita Holbourne, (TUC Race Relations Committee) condemned attacks on Muslim women, businesses & Mosques. Andy Reid, PCS National Executive Member called for unity of people of all backgrounds. Kate Hudson (General Secretary of CND) and London Assembly Member Murad Qureshi brought solidarity to the demo. Matt Stanley (NUS LGBT committee) highlighted the common threat fascism poses to LGBT and Black communities, providing a reminder of the nailbombs that BNP supporter David Copeland detonated in Brixton, Brick Lane and Soho. Aaron Kiely (NUS Black Students Officer) called for unity and opposition to the racist and Islamophobic backlash. Journalist Owen Jones outlined the importance of everyone standing in solidarity with the Muslim community against Islamophobia and condemned the petrol bombs thrown at a mosque in Grimsby yesterday as a terrorist attack. Stand up Comedian Ava Vidal condemned the ‘collective punishment’ of Muslim communities which is in reality impacting on all Black communities and called on the government to tackle the far right violent extremism of groups like the EDL. Daniel Trilling (Assistant Editor of the New Statesman) outlined how a poll indicate public attitudes to the EDL have worsened after the Woolwich murder but that they are successfully exploiting the climate of Islamophobia which is often exacerbated by the media and mainstream politicians. He called for the celebration of modern multicultural Britain. Weyman Bennett, Joint National Secretary of Unite Against Fascism said “We have come out in our hundreds, Muslim and Jew. The EDL want to use the tragic death of Lee Rigby to tear apart our society. We’ve seen it before and we have to stand against it.”
Towards the end of the day, news broke that the charity ‘Help for Heroes’ was refusing donations from the EDL. A welcome move which will be a serious blow to the EDL’s attempts to further exploit the Woolwich atrocity for their own poisonous ends.
After the EDL were dispersed by the police, around 100 of them reconvened in Leicester Square where they attacked police, tourists had to flee their violence and arrests were made.
With the BNP and EDL having both suffered a series of setbacks over the last year, it is clear that they are aiming to rebuild themselves, exploiting this tragic and horrific murder. Whilst it is clear that the far right are seeing a rise in support in the current climate, Unite Against Fascism has had over 100,000 hits on its facebook page and is gaining hundreds of followers on twitter. A clear sign that a response that rejects racism, fascism and Islamophobia is needed in the aftermath of this heinious attack. It is essential that all those who oppose the hatred and division that the fascists aim to spread join us in the forthcoming initiatives that we have planned to reject fascism.