Thursday, 28 July 2011

Letter in Shropshire Star: We must not deny the right to protest

This week Councillor Mike Ion started a campaign to have the proposed English Defence League (EDL) march in Wellington banned.

Article 11: Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful
assembly and to freedom of association with others
The EDL was set up from various football supporters clubs ("firms") and protests mainly against Islamisation of the UK and the attempts to implement Sharia Law in the UK. Only this week, Islamic extremists put up posters in one part of London declaring it a "Sharia Zone" and threatening to enforce it with vigilante groups. It is this kind of behaviour that the EDL - rightly or wrongly, everyone will have their own opinion - campaigns against. This has earned them the title "far right" - a term that has quite a narrow meaning but has been misused as a generic term for any group that opposes immigration or rejects multiculturalism.

If the EDL were far right they would be white supremacist, xenophobic and would promote apartheid.  No doubt some members of the EDL will be white supremacists but the organisation itself makes no such claims of racial supremacy.  Xenophobia has come to mean an irrational hatred of foreigners (it really means fear of foreigners but it's another term that has been misused) and while there are undoubtedly xenophobes in the EDL, the group itself doesn't purport to hate foreigners.  Apartheid is the segregation of the population based on colour, race, religion, etc., which is quite the opposite of what the EDL campaigns for - they oppose the segregation of society on religious and racial grounds, calling for an end to multiculturalism which encourages sections of society to distance themselves from the mainstream in the name of culture and/or religion.

All the above might make it sound like I support the EDL.  I don't support them, nor do I oppose them.  I don't know enough about them to form an opinion and to be frank, I have more than enough on my plate already!  But I do get annoyed at lazy journalism and I get really annoyed when people try to curtail peoples' rights because they disapprove of what they say so I put pen to paper and the Shropshire Star have published this letter by me tonight (the bits in italics are the bits the Shropshire Star edited out which I think made the point I was trying to make clearer) ...

We must not deny the right to protest

I read with disbelief that Councillor Mike Ion is calling for the Home Secretary to ban a proposed march by the English Defence League in Wellington on the day of AFC Telford United's first match of the season.

Here is a man who apparently cares so deeply about democracy that he went to the effort and expense of standing for election to the council but then starts a campaign to deny EDL members their right to peaceful protest - one of the cornerstones of modern democracy!

The 19th century author, Evelyn Hall, wrote "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it". We may not agree with the EDL but that is not an excuse to deny them their rights.

Mike Ion and the other Labour councillors that are supporting his fascist campaign should hang their heads in shame. I believe in free speech and democracy and that sometimes means having to hear and accept things that you don't agree with. Banning people from expressing contrary views is something you associate with repressive regimes in places like China or Burma, not England.

The EDL should be allowed to hold a peaceful protest in Wellington and if Unite Against Fascism wish to hold a peaceful counter-protest then of course they should be free to do the same. Personally, I despise the UAF thugs that drag these protest marches into violence but I certainly wouldn't want them to be banned from protesting.

If Councillor Ion is successful in banning the EDL from marching in Telford not because of a risk of serious public disorder but because he disagrees with them, this will set a dangerous precedent. Who would be next? Would I be banned from criticising the EU because my views are contrary to those of the LibLabCon?

I would urge anyone who opposes the EDL to simply ignore them on the day rather than support an undemocratic, unconstitutional ban on their right to peaceful protest.

Councillor Stuart Parr
I accidentally wrote "English Democrats" in the first paragraph when I meant "English Defence League" (the Shropshire Star didn't notice either!) - I had been writing about their infiltration by the BNP that evening.  I will write to the Shropshire Star with a correction.