Breaking news! (…ish)
Extremists have infiltrated the British Army… and there’s a serious danger that they might do or say something that causes someone somewhere to be offended.
Try not to panic.
No, this isn’t an article about true extremism (the type that causes terrorism, murder, violence, rape and abuse), it’s about that other type… the sort of ‘extremism’ that causes half-rate journalists to give in to their barely disguised prejudices and stick the boot in to people who have managed to offend their sensibilities.
Well they’ve got to find something to write about.
In this case we have an exemplary piece of journalism from the home of in-depth political analysis, the Daily Star (for international readers, this is the paper that organises its website content: ‘news, sport, babes’ – not that there’s anything wrong with that, but don’t expect to find much in the way of insightful analysis).
The big story of the hour is this picture, showing a serving British soldier in front of an EDL flag.
We should explain: the English Defence League is an organisation that very much aims to do what it says on the tin – we want to defend England.
That might sound like a pretty grand idea, but when the whole idea of being proud of your country is under attack, there’s plenty that a grassroots movement like ours can do to remind the government of what should be its primary concern: defending this country, its people, its institutions and its traditions from those who would attack the rights and freedoms that we all enjoy.
We believe that Islam presents a challenge to our tolerant values, as well as to our national security, but that it wouldn’t necessarily be this way if the government was willing to replace pandering to the Muslim community with making it abundantly clear that extremism will not be tolerated.
Islamic extremism is a global problem, so evidently there is need of reform from within. Unfortunately, the government’s stubborn refusal to allow any criticism of Islam, or tackle the self-imposed segregation of many of the country’s Muslim communities, makes it far easier for extremism to grow.
Soldiers fighting Islamic extremism in Iraq or Afghanistan should be confident that any insurgents they come across won’t turn out to have grown up in Birmingham, attended a UK university, or have received funding from UK charities.
If that confidence isn’t there, then of course they’ll support an organisation that continually calls for Islamic extremism in the UK to be taken more seriously.
In a warzone where the threat of Islamic extremism is very real, a soldier choosing to fly the flag of an organisation dedicated to combating the spread of Islamic extremism at home seems entirely appropriate.
But not according to Brian Whelan of the Daily Star. To him this is a “sickening display”.
Why? Well it’s not difficult to dive into the psyche of Mr Whelan.
Fresh from making a giant stink about the army selfishly working to defend him from terrorist attack during the Olympic games (presumably he’d prefer a hijacked aircraft hit its intended target rather than being prevented from causing the deaths of thousands?), he’s used his little slot in the Daily Star to make it all too plain what he thinks of the EDL.
We are a “racist group” known for our “far-right rhetoric”, and our “offensive views” fuel our “message of hate” (as well as our “hate-filled message”, which is probably the same thing).
If Whelan were promoting a low budget horror movie he’d do well to include as much fearful language in such a short article.
How many times do we have to say that we believe racist attitudes range from the incredibly offensive to the downright silly (with not a lot of room in between)?
Islam, in case it had escaped the discriminating Mr Whelan’s notice, is not a race. And more importantly, there is a big difference between our fair-minded criticisms of Islam and any form of anti-Muslim bigotry.
You’d also have to warp the definition of “far right” quite a bit for us to qualify. Although don’t take our word for it; ask the police’s head of domestic extremism.
Of course, Whelan doesn’t bother explaining what our “offensive views” actually are, but then why should he? We got the message – we believe in hatred and racism and fascism and violence and midnight rituals involving the blood of a goat and an up-turned crucifix.
Well maybe not that last one, but the insinuations were pretty clear.
Never mind that it was Whelan’s prejudices that were the ones on show, or that his demonising of the EDL is a far better indication of having “a message of hate” than anything we’ve ever published – we got the message, we’re the bad guys.
It gets a little boring refuting the same old nonsense time and time again, so here’s a link to an article we put out earlier this year rubbishing a lot of the empty claims that the press like to make about anyone who can’t afford to take them to court.
However, our alleged connection to Anders Breivik is always worth contesting.
“Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, 33, claimed to have attended their events”, crows Whelan, as if that proves something (and as if his age was in some way important).
Anders Breivik claimed a lot of things – most of which people have the good sense not to take too seriously. The only real similarity between Anders Breivik and the EDL is that we both are, in wildly different ways, a symptom of Islamic extremism.
Although the hideous crimes of one madman should hardly condemn the people or organisations that he had the most tenuous of links with, we are certainly not complacent about the threat posed by what we have at times referred to as ‘counter-extremism’.
We’re always on the lookout for troublemakers (many attracted to the EDL by incendiary articles like Whelan’s) and we waste no time in making them unwelcome. We’ve also lost count of the times we’ve passionately defended the need for peaceful protest and condemned the divisive and alarmist reporting of some daily newspapers.
In many ways, the EDL are the country’s best protection against ‘counter extremism’, because by giving people both a voice and a coherent mission, we help to channel their frustrations away from violent confrontation.
If only the same could be said of the Muslim community and Islamic extremism.
Despite this, Whelan is still convinced that it’s EDL extremism that should be concerning his readers. So he sets out to find some.
What he finds isn’t exactly the scoop of the century.
Apparently, a young soldier posted online that he was “buzzing” ahead of our demonstration in Tower Hamlets last year.
How could the security services have missed that!?
Hardly an example of extremism on our part.
The allegations that the soldier in question also said he enjoyed scrapping with coppers certainly isn’t what we like to hear, but it’s hardly the crime of the century. Besides, our stewarding team have by now had enough experience of working alongside the police to ensure that there is rarely any trouble at our demonstrations.
The revelations that another EDL-supporting soldier lists his hobbies as “football hooliganism” and “being an Islamophobe” is such an obvious satire of the prejudice of people like Whelan that it’s not really worth saying any more about it.
The last piece of damning evidence that Whelan has apparently managed to obtain is that other pictures of EDL-supporting soldiers “are being distributed by the EDL as propaganda”.
Well sorry, but isn’t that exactly what you’re doing?
Definition of propaganda:
1 [mass noun] information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view:
What’s misleading about showing a picture of a soldier supporting the EDL? Nothing – all is suggests is that we have some support from the armed forces, which anyone familiar with the EDL will have known for years.
On the other hand, making all kinds of unfounded allegations and calling us names – that’s propaganda.
As is suggesting that the statements obtained from the MoD were directed specifically at the EDL.
“The Army is clear that racism of any kind is unacceptable”, says a MoD spokesman.
Well, great – so are we. Next?
“While personnel are free to join political parties, they are expected to abide by our standards in all they do”.
Again, great. We’re not a political party, but we are big supporters of the armed forces and of the noble traditions and shared values that they fight to defend. So this should be good news for soldiers who want to support the EDL.
We hope that the recent news that soldiers who have fought for our country face deportation (whilst the government struggles to deport terrorists), will also help more serving soldiers and veterans recognise that the government hasn’t got its priorities right.
And we hope that the malicious claptrap of people like Brian Whelan won’t stop them from supporting a movement that simply wants that to change.