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Archive for the ‘Anti-Racism’ Category

That Israeli interior minister, Eli Yishai, last Friday in an interview with the Isreali newspaper, Maariv can claim “This country belongs to us, to the white man”, demonstrates the staggering ability of this modern world to echo the most abhorrent excesses of 20th century racist doctrine in the very state founded by those fleeing such persecution.

This isn’t just a case of an extremist grabbing headlines, such inflammatory and blatantly racist statements are the norm for various members of the Israeli government including the prime minister himself who claimed recently that “The breach of our borders by infiltrators could threaten the Jewish and democratic state (…) we will begin by removing the infiltrators from South Sudan and move on to others”.

Nor is this a case of politicians talking tough in order to garner votes. Just this month draconian legislation was passed allowing anyone attempting to enter of having entered Israel illegally to be imprisoned for up to three years. Furthermore, anyone helping migrants or providing them with shelter could face prison sentences of between five and 15 years.

Perhaps most worrying is the stoking of public anger against African immigrants, the latest direct consequence of which has been the firebombing of a house containing 10 Eritreans. Politicians such as Eli Yishai and Michael Ben-Ari of the National Union shamelessly associate African immigrants with viral diseases, HIV and criminality while sources from Israel´s very own health ministry clearly state that “99.9% of the migrants who come to work in Israel are not infected with any unique disease whatsoever” and a recent parliamentary committee recently found the percentage of crimes committed by foreigners to be 13.5% although they make up 28.5% of the population.

Despite the apparent contradictions, maybe in the end we should not be surprised: name the only two nation states in history to be explicitly based on ethnicity – Nazi Germany and Israel. Eli Yishai said he was speaking out of “love for my country”, but let this be a wakeup call for all Israelis who really love their country. Instead of perpetuating centuries old hate Israel must break from its past and embrace secularism, for a Jewish state – Judaism being the only major religion strictly based on lineage – will never be at peace.

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Although a lengthy discussion of semantics isn’t exactly necessary, I think it is very important to clear up the terminology used to refer to travellers. It is by no means consistent and what people say can very often be very different to the meaning they intended. The blurring of definitions is also evident within Romany Gypsy and Irish Traveller communities themselves, as people may prefer to label themselves differently depending on their heritage, their current lifestyle and the way they wish to be interpreted. (Discussion on this topic from Gypsy Message Boards)

To try and make it as clear as possible, using the term ‘traveller’ can often be used as an umbrella for groups practising a travelling lifestyle. There are essentially two main groups which form this travelling population in this country (which is estimated at about 300,000), Irish Travellers and Romany Gypsies. Irish Travellers often referred to as Pavee, are descendents of nomadic people who roamed Ireland for hundreds of years. Romany Gypsies (‘Gypsy’ being a corruption of ‘Egyptian’, the land the Romany were falsely assumed to have hailed from) are descended from Northern Indian tribesman who left that region and migrated steadily westwards in medieval times. The Romany people have many different sub groups which are divided along lines of different territorial, cultural and linguistic lines.

It is also important to note that many Irish Travellers and Romany Gypsies no longer practice a travelling lifestyle, however still attach importance to their heritage.

Despite the different practices and heritage of the different groups of travellers, they are often referred to as a homogenous group because of their shared travelling lifestyle. This often happens in the media, where derogatory stories about Gypsies and travellers is commonplace and does nothing for improving the knowledge of consumers of such stories.

When in conversation discussing the racism which appears to be so acceptable when directed at Romany people and Irish Travellers a response which is common runs along the lines of ‘its not racist because they are not a different race’ which is not only ignorant of the facts that Pavee and Romany people are ethinically different from the other ‘English’, (Anglo-Saxons, Celts etc) but is also reflex to excuse the fear and mistreatment of a minority group.

Whether you call it racism or not, anti-Gypsy bigotry exists in a big way in this country and all over Europe, particularly fiercely in countries such as Romania, Hungary and Italy but what is most worrying about it is that it is more than acceptable. Although banning words from being heard is hardly any solution to racism, you will casually hear words like ‘gippo’ and ‘pikey’ on television and on the radio where you would never hear the words ‘paki’ and ‘nigger’. Although it is hard to fathom today, it is shocking to find that there are places in the UK where you will find signs beside the entrance to establishments to the effect of ‘We Do Not Serve Gypsies’ . Imagine the outrage if establishments refused to serve black people or Jews!

Although it would still be a battle for rights and equality, if the racism that faces travellers today were limited to words and the right-wing media, it would be a much easier task. However, this is not the case and across Europe travellers are quite literally in some cases, enemies of the state. The Italian government declared its Roma population a national security threat. Right-wing groups, notably in Italy and Hungary have used violently mobilised against local Roma populations, forcing them from their homes, burning down camps and even murdering Roma people.

In France, President Sarkozy is under fire from the EU after ordering the deportation of hundreds of its Roma population to Romania and Bulgaria, as officials have cracked down on the group holding them responsible for criminal activity. Closer to home, the new coalition government has reversed the decision to create ‘pitches’ within the jurisdiction of each local authority which aimed to reduce the problems associated with travellers forced to camp on private land. They are also carrying through new waves of evictions of established camps including Dale Farm, home to around 1000 people.

The right-wing media across Europe is constantly on a tirade against Gypsies, The Sun’s launching of a war on the Gypsy community, ‘STAMP ON THE CAMPS’ is just one example. Let us not forget that during the Holocaust, around 500,000 European Roma were executed by the Nazis, a huge percentage of their total population. Much of the rampant anti-Semitism which existed in Europe has since been eradicated after the terrible persecution of the Jews but today it seems as acceptable as ever to treat Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers as second class citizens. Why?

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Following the video we put out about the EDL in Bradford we wanted to put out some more footage of one of the most interesting aspects of the EDL, their one Muslim supporter (or mascot), Abdul. On the day he was surrounded by video cameras before the demonstration and the media were very encouraged to interview him whilst we were  inside the EDL’s cordon.

This footage is a collection of Abdul’s comments before the demonstration started, we have decided no to edit it too extensively, in order to try and give you a better idea of Abdul on the day, the fact that it includes some repetition, perhaps, shows the limitations of Abdul’s arguments. It is about 12 minutes long but certainly worth the patience.

Included is footage of Abdul talking with known fascists who had turned up for the EDL demonstration however Abdul’s definition of racism (anyone who shakes his hand cannot be racist) prevents him from acknowledging racists, even if they have a swastika tattooed on their chest.

The reaction of other Muslims to Abdul’s presence was far from welcoming (as you would imagine) as local people point out to him- “their using you!” but Abdul’s quest carries on and the EDL continue to point to him as proof that they are not racist.

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As I arrived on Saturday morning, Bradford was holding its breath in anticipation of the invasion of thousands of proud defenders of the nation, for ‘The Big One’. Despite claims on the day that they are now over 27, 000 strong, they hardly managed to muster 1000 supporters to ‘take back’ Bradford. Perhaps many of the local supporters that they expected were sulking after Bradford’s home defeat to Southend on Friday night. Or maybe there just weren’t very many of them.

While speaking to some of the EDL as the coaches arrived, it became evident that despite their chants of  ‘Who the fuck is Allah?/Allah is a paedo’ they want you all to know that they’re not racist, how can they be? They have a Sikh leader and a Muslim follower called Abdul, who is definitely sure that he’s never seen any racism on demo’s and can’t call anyone who shakes his hand racist.

As you would imagine for ‘The Big One’ however, the EDL upgraded their equipment, substituting their coins and bottles of bodily fluid for real stones and a smoke grenade which they used to absolutely pummel the road in between them and those who turned up to oppose them.

After successfully managing to drunkenly sing songs and hear some inspirational talks from their leaders over the course of the afternoon some of these guys decided that ‘The Big One’ just wasn’t big enough and climbed over the wall to have a wander around. This prompted a spectacular spontaneous reaction as hundreds of people who were there to oppose them set off to catch up with the toe-rags and see them off. Which they did.

There’s no doubt that the EDL must be very disappointed with their day, their Big One didn’t get anywhere near as big as they wanted and they were very limited in the bigness of the trouble they could cause. Despite the official UAF and Hope Not Hate events being far away and out of sight, hundreds of local people and anti-fascists did make it to the streets to oppose the EDL and stopped them from doing any damage when some of them did manage to break out.

It remains to be seen where the EDL will go from here.

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It doesn’t take much for the media to reveal its true colours and this week they have exemplified this in the incredibly bigoted and misinformed reaction to the fantastic decision to grant asylum to two homosexual men who face persecution in their own countries for their sexuality. The headlines are hardly surprising, its not that often that the tabloids get to combine their homophobia and racism in a single article. The Daily Star running with ‘No Room For Gays’ is almost unbelievable, The Sun also runs with ‘Gay Illegals Can Stay’ but even the BBC News 24 reporter’s instant reaction was essentially;  ‘Well, surely now they will all just say they are gay so they can stay’.

Not only did this case point the the bigotry of the media (which it of course doesnt take a genius to uncover), it also highlights a couple of other points, the pathetic methods of the UK Border Agency (which a previous article has already outlined the potential affects of) and also the media’s contradictions.

Firstly, in the Refugee Action email out after the ruling, they highlighted how the UKBA staff who assess cases such as this were focusing not on the persecution but on the sexuality, for example the following question was asked:

“Why do you choose to be a homosexual when it is illegal in your country?”

Its difficult to know where to start in trying to dissect the faults in this question. It presupposes that one chooses their sexuality, suggests that if you are homosexual you should not do it if its illegal and thereby legitimises  the concept of criminalising a sexuality (but in another country). Their previous ruling that people should go back to their home countries and ‘be discreet’ about their sexuality continues to display an utter lack of understanding. Would they send a member of the Zimbabwean opposition party the MDC back and tell them to be discreet about their politics?

Lastly I want to point out the striking contradiction of the tabloid press which has occured simultaneously to their disgust at the granting of asylum to the to men concerned here in the campaign to prevent the stoning of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani (I have provided The Sun link here). Its very positive that people are questioning the state repression of the Islamic Republic and have decided to campaign against the stoning of a woman accused of adultery. However the contradiction lies in the fact that one of the homosexual men which apparently there is not room for is also Iranian. So, they will campaign to stop the persecution of a woman awaiting a terrible fate in Iran, but they will condemn the ruling which keeps a man from returning to a different kind of persecution in the same country. Is it that he is homosexual, or that he is an asylum seeker that they don’t support him? Or is it another way to maniuplate anti-Islamic sentiment and an easy way to score points over the barbarism of the Muslim regime?

In order to understand the contradiction of the press, try this. Think about what would happen if the stories were reversed; if the court had ruled that a woman who committed adultery would not be returned to Iran because of the persecution she would face and a homosexual man was going to be stoned to death in the same country. What would be the reaction then? ‘No room for adulterers?’ I think not.


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Notes on the EDL

Following the recent Guardian article, I wanted to post some thoughts about the EDL and the general approach of how they are currently being dealt with. Hopefully with the aim of getting some re-evalution of current progress and maybe some debate on how we go from here. This isn’t an attempt to tell people how we should be acting, I want to create a bit of discussion because I am concerned about the EDL threat and I only see it escalating as things stand.

Looking at the video in the above article, I was actually a bit embarrassed to see the lone girl, shouting ‘Nazi Scum’ at the EDL as they walked through London. It seemed to me to be a bit of a reflection of how anti-fascists have dealt with the EDL so far, not very well. I think before we move forward we have to recognise a few things, regarding their popularity, their ideology and their tactics.

Firstly, lets face it, the EDL are getting more popular (despite their relatively poor turnout in Newcastle- which is surely due to the fact its so far for the southern ‘divisions’). They are big enough to be able to comfortably turn out over 1000 people to street demo’s and what really scares me is their confidence in turning out a lot more if they wanted to target somewhere like Bradford.

Their ideology is maybe a bit up for debate. I fully believe that the leadership are fascists, but I dont believe that the EDL is totally made up of fascists. I agree with others who have noted that their mass support is on emotional/nationalistic rather than ideological/fascist lines. A lot of people on EDL demo’s are young, white, working class and pissed off. That’s not to blanketly say they are all disenchanted Labour voters, or to attempt to treat them as a homogenous section of society, its to state a fact. They have genuine concerns about society (and not just about Islam) and are being manipulated.  One thing anti-fascists can be guilty of is almost being apologists for militant Islam, and thats wrong. Militant Islam is something we should oppose as with any extremist religious group, but its clear that the EDL are using this cover and blowing this threat way out of proportion to create a chance to attack Muslims and Asians in general-which we of course have to oppose. I think it is important to emphasise that the average EDL member is not a hardcore fascist, they may well indeed be racist and hold some horrible opinions of Muslims, but they are not all NF or BNP members.

Another thing I wanted to note was about the tactics of the EDL, and it is something which has made a bit of an impact on me. After hearing about the EDL leafletting a power station in Castleford, I wondered when the last time a ‘leftist’ group did that to drum up support for an anti-fascist demo. I may be surprised at the answer but the point is, we should be seeing the anti-fascist fight in the context of a wider struggle against capitalism and I think that we would benefit from engaging with people more in our workplaces to get opposition to the EDL. Are we being a bit lazy? Are we not approaching people from the right angle?

For me, it is imperative that we oppose the EDL on the streets, but does just standing shouting ‘Nazi Scum, Off Our Streets’ really work as a tactic? I would hazard a guess at probably not, it probably alienates people on the other side and fits in quite nicely with the stereotype we are held up as by the EDL. If we accept they are not all fascists, maybe we need a more flexible approach?

Lastly, on top of not being apologists for militant Islamist groups, we should also be careful how we do go about opposing them in the sense that I don’t think we should aim for their marches to be banned, or criticise them for fighting police. Its hypocritical. On the left, we are no more popular than the EDL with the state and there would be outrage if any trade union or ‘left wing’ demo was banned, so lets not pretend that its alright to use that tactic against the EDL. The same applies when fighting with the police is concerned, don’t use the fact that the EDL have fought police as a way to drum up opposition to them, surely that’s again hypocritical and counter-productive?

I hope this can generate some more ideas and thoughts to building against the EDL in future.

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