My body sensed the march before I saw it- the amygdale flooding my system with adrenaline. Turning a corner here they were: men, families, chanting, many with tattoos, carrying England flags and banners demanding 'No sharia law'.
The scene- alive with colour, noise, even pageantry, yet laced with menace- resembles some twisted version of a fete or Silver Jubilee. However, despite the bluster, the realisation slowly dawns that this demonstration is very small- 60 people at most. It is the million pound Police operation (riot police, dogs, horses and helicopters) shepherding it through Brighton’s narrow lanes, which has lent the EDL march most of its power and impact. Yet it wasn’t till the ‘protestors’ were finally corralled into a small fenced off patch of grass, by a statue of Queen Victoria, that the true feebleness of their numbers and message were revealed.
Once here, they seemed strangely deflated, milling around disconsolately, without sound or fury. Until the Unite Against Fascists (UAF) demonstrators turned up- this was the fuel both sides needed. At the other end of the Steine the Police had arranged another fenced off patch of grass for these 'anti-fascists'. The Police, very thoughtfully, had positioned these two enclosures at such a distance that these two groups could just about communicate if they shouted at each other. The result was something akin to panto. Interestingly enough the 'anti-fascists' were far more violent, trying to break out the fence, goading the Police and such forth. One moment that stood out was when an 'anti-fascist' started screaming 'Peace and love in your fucking face' at a 'fascist'. Another was when a friend shouted out '1 in 10 people are gay and there are 50 of you' at the ringed off EDL, and the coppers laughed and some of these burly tattooed men looked around at each other, sheepishly. Not even an hour later the EDL group obviously asked to be escorted back to the station. They seemed outwitted, bewildered.The day offered up quite a few ironies- one was that, somehow, the EDL came out of it looking like underdogs- an oppressed minority even. Of course they want this- and it is a key part of the rhetoric of all abusers that they are the real victims. But somewhere deep down in all the tawdry projections and theatrics it felt there must be genuine grievances that these people didn’t or couldn’t articulate. In the sense it felt like a wasted opportunity- no one listening to each other, no dialogue, no learning. Another irony was how blind the UAF are to the paradox in their tactics– we will combat oppression by shouting it down, matching its hate with our own i.e. oppressing it.
Their message to these EDL marchers seemed to be- go back to where you came from! Stay indoors and be fascists- be quiet fascists- don’t come here shouting about it. It often seems to be the case that those on opposing ends of a conflict or political spectrum share a similar psychological make-up and modus operandi.
For example the EDL itself has quite a bit in common with its other foe: militant Islam. Essentially atavistic and tribal in their outlook, both groups fear globalisation- and believe that the way to deal with it is to build a citadel of homogeneity. And crucially both share the key trait that annihilation or exclusion is the way to resolve difference.In general it seems there is a lot of anger and fear around in England but nowhere to go with it. For centuries it was OK for a society to regulate its trauma, ease its pent-up frustrations, by scapegoating some outside agency or minority- Jews, witches, the French, immigrants and such forth- as long as it suited national interests. This felt like a last ditch attempt to do this- surely it was acceptable to demonise Islamic Fundamentalists? But now the rules of the game had changed and no one had quite explained it to these people. Yes, you can still shout at football matches, and yes, we will still kill for our national interests/ security but we’re not proud of it anymore- no flag waving please.
Meanwhile the real villain- the mind-set that prioritises profit (and the right to pursue profit) over th wellbeing, even life, of the average person, slips off stage again. The millionaires, media tycoons, global elite and others who champion this most forcefully are a minority that it’s almost impossible to locate, let alone persecute.