Bristol against EDL

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Bristol will brace itself for the English Defence League (EDL) march, scheduled to take place on 14th July at Castle Park.

The EDL state that they want to come to Bristol,

…because we wish to draw public attention to Islamic grooming, the refusal of Muslims to integrate into British society and the increasing attacks by Muslims on non-Muslim Britons.

The apparent focus on Muslims has caused people to label the organization as racist.

The extent of the aversion to the group is such that the Bristol East Labour MP Kerry McCarthy has called for a ban on the march altogether, fearing violent clashes between the marchers and members of the community.

Additionally, OBV Graduate and Bristol Mayoral candidate Marvin Rees, has stated:

I'm sad its happening…this is not the type of message we want to send across Bristol. Bristol is a city that historically always stood up for the minorities and it is sad that they [EDL] mistakenly believe their message will have any traction in Bristol.

Considering the potential opposition to the EDL's demonstration, the local authority has prepared for the event by planning for the presence of around 700 policemen costing approximately £1 million. Officers from Yorkshire, south Wales and the south of England are expected to make their way to Bristol for the execution of this security operation.

Groups such as We Are Bristol and Bristol Unite Against Fascism plan to counter-demonstrate on the day, to show their intolerance to the policies promoted by the EDL. People of different faiths have shown their derision for the group. The logic follows that despite the EDL claiming only 'Islam is the enemy', one of the points on the British Freedom group's plan (a sister organization to the EDL) is to abolish the Human Rights Act and equality legislation. This would affect all communities, not just EDL's stated enemy. Balwinder Singh Rana from Sikhs Against the EDL explains:

The EDL are attempting to isolate the Islamic community from others so that it is easier to blame Muslims for all of the ills of society. All of England's problems are directed at Muslims - today it is Muslims, tomorrow it will be us. They are employing a divide and rule strategy.

In the case of the Sikh community, the EDL has repeatedly attempted to take advantage of the tensions within the ethnic minority community. This is evident from the protest that occurred in Luton in May, in response to the police's handling of a Sikh girl's allegations of sexual assault by a Muslim man. It is reported that the leaders of the EDL, including the co-founder Tommy Robinson, hijacked the protest. The group's tactic to find a common base with the Sikhs motivated them to wear the traditional Sikh turban.

What is disturbing for groups like Sikhs Against the EDL is the idea that EDL members are making contact with young impressionable Sikhs in these kind of encounters. This danger has become all the more real as two days after the Luton protest, some Sikhs and EDL members were reported to have held a secret meeting. This is why, Rana argues, that it is so important for groups like Unite Against Facism and Sikhs Against the EDL to be present at the counter-protest on the 14th July.

It is necessary to organize where the EDL go…if we do not visibly oppose people get the impression that there is no opposition to the EDL. We go out there to counter-protest to educate people; to try and tell them what the EDL really stand for and to expose the divide and rule strategy that is being used in regards to the Muslim and Sikh communities.

He adds:

We have had a meeting in Birmingham and distributed around 2000 leaflets in the Birmingham Smethwick Mela. We have sent various Sikh temples and leaders letters asking to come out in support. As a consequence, Sikhs from parts of the country like Birmingham, Cardiff and London will come to show their support in Bristol

Additionally, Rees argues that the government could do more:

It is the responsibility of our leaders not to create the conditions in which these kinds of groups grow - the leaders of this country need to support and bolster multiculturalism so that groups like the EDL no longer have traction in society.

Parmila Kumari

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