PAUL AUSTIN MURPHY ON POLITICS
PAUL AUSTIN MURPHY ON POLITICS
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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Civil Liberty and the EDL [Civil Liberty]
English Defence League protest in Manchester - Saturday, October the 10th, 2009.
Saturday's demonstrations in Manchester resulted in ten people being injured and 48 being arrested. Three of the injuries resulted from police dogs biting protesters.
The English Defence League (EDL), who describe themselves as a "multi-ethnic, multi-faith organisation", called for the demonstration. They actively consulted with the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) prior to the demonstration. The demonstration was billed as a protest against Islamic extremism and calls to implement Sharia law in the UK.
The 'Unite Against Fascism' (UAF) group caught wind of this protest and decided (as they have at previous EDL events in Birmingham) to counter-demonstrate.
The two factions stood on opposite sides with the police separating them on horseback and in riot gear. The EDL sang patriotic songs and waved St. George flags. There are claims (reported in the Guardian newspaper) that they made Nazi salutes. However we have looked at many different pieces of video footage and do not see this happening at this particular event. Of the EDL supporters, one witness stated that half of them appeared to be young male football supporters from across the country, while the rest were locals from the Greater Manchester/North West area.
The UAF protesters chanted aggressively, while trying to break through Police barriers aimed at separating the opposing forces. Both sides threw things at each other.
Reports estimate anywhere from 600 to 1000 EDL supporters and around 1400 UAF supporters were involved in the clashes. Skirmishes broke out, but were quickly stopped by police. This stand off went on for almost five hours, while shops in the area had to close. The UAF dispersed around 16:30, while the police escorted the EDL to their buses around 17:00.
The arrests break down as follows:
29 on suspicion of public order offences
4 for affray
3 for possession of an offensive weapon – one of whom was also arrested for possession of drugs
3 on suspicion of racially aggravated public order offences
5 on suspicion of breach of the peace.
4 undisclosed at present
Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan said: “I would like to thank all those people who came to Manchester today and protested peacefully for their patience and understanding." While some shops were reported as having to close, the GMP "has ensured that despite the significant size of the protest, life in the city went on as normal.”
While the North West Ambulance Service had teams and extra vehicles ready to deal with any injuries, Ged Beler, Greater Manchester head of the Service said, "Events were carefully monitored throughout the day from various strategic locations and thankfully no life threatening injuries were reported." The event was handled professionally and efficiently by the City of Manchester who both maintained public order and allowed protests.
We monitored the Manchester Evening News live tweets while the event was happening and have perused through comments and video on many different sites. In addition we have spoken to individuals on both sides of the protest. What we found most interesting was the attitude of many Mancunians towards the UAF and their desire to 'Big Brother' the city and 'protect' them from the 'evil racists'.
We saw several blogs with the following statement from UAF's self-appointed chair person, Weyman Bennett, who stated, "We must tell Manchester that their racism is not welcome." Manchester residents seemed to take umbrage to this statement, with the following comment being typical:
"You became a spokesman for Manchester when exactly? I'll tell you what we pride ourselves on and that's freedom to express ourselves. We don't need some scruffy lot such as yourself and your group coming to Manchester under the false guise of superhero's and then kicking off because people don't agree with you! "
Others were adamant that they value freedom of speech and whether they support or do not support the EDL, they are capable of making their own choices. These people feel that the UAF's counter protests are inflammatory and insulting to freedom of expression and assembly. While they do not necessarily agree with the EDL, they feel that Muslim extremism should be tackled more publicly and are angered at the politicians skirting around or ignoring this issue outright.
We suspect that there are similar sentiments across the country towards the UAF, who one person called 'hobby protesters' and another describing them as a 'rent-a-mob'. Many Manchester locals commented that they do not need the UAF deciding for them what is suitable for public consideration. They feel their police force are perfectly capable of arresting anyone making 'racist' statements or disturbing the peace, and that they have a long history in the city of democracy.
They accused the UAF, by counter protesting the EDL, of costing the people of Manchester many thousands of pounds when the city can least afford it and stoking unrest. These people feel that the EDL protest should have been allowed to go ahead unchallenged.
Qadir Ahmad Chohan, spokesman for the Council of Manchester Mosques, advised against going to the demonstration. He said anti Islamic propaganda should be "challenged in an intelligent and peaceful manner" and warned that "well-intentioned individuals may inadvertently be provoked into violence". He felt that attending counter protests undermined the image of "Muslims as a law-abiding and peaceful people."
The British National Party (BNP) advised their members against supporting the EDL, and in fact have proscribed the group. They say that the EDL exhibit several false flags which reek of state sponsorship or even "Zionist" manipulation behind the facade. Members of the BNP were advised to stay out of the conflict. The 'anti-fascist' groups sought to muddy the waters by accusing the EDL of being a BNP front organisation. Their claims appear unfounded. BNP members were rightly concerned at the effect on ordinary people of possibly violent clashes and heeded the call not to attend.
It's interesting that so many people from Manchester are angry with the UAF for their interference. There were several comments accusing the UAF of acting like "Fascists" by working to suppress dissent and protesting other groups' rights to free speech. Posts on UAF sites called for the EDL to be "drowned out", "shouted down", "stopped", "run out of town" and "silenced". Posts urging violence more directly were also displayed.
One poster stated:- "I always liked the practice of groups like Red Action and AFA back in the 80's. They would march along singing the national anthem and pretend to heckle and abuse the 'official' anti-racist demonstrators. The Police lines would open and allow them to mingle in with the NF or BNP thinking they were Nazis and all hell would break loose. Thinking about it, why don't some anti-fascists invest in some Stone Island and CP Company clothing for Saturday?"
Another UAF poster on the Lancaster Unity blog also called for violence:- "It seems that the EDL wankers are afraid of the many back alleys of Manchester, lol where bogeymen anarcho peeps are lurking and will be waiting for them. Like someone said earlier, the white supremacists will more than likely stray where they shouldn't. Manchester and Bolton has the country's biggest anarchist punk scene outside of London, and plenty of people willing to take direct action in sending the EDL packing!"
Reports stated that the arrests on the 10th of October were evenly split between the UAF and the EDL. Disruptions erupted in small pockets which the police responded to. By 17:00, the live tweet sites we monitored were saying that the public should have no issues going about their regular business for the evening.
Civil Liberty respects freedom of speech and feels that different groups should be able to express their ideas and concerns. In this particular case, there were around 2,000 people gathered from opposing factions, forcing the police to lock down the city centre. This large number of angry people shouting at each other and trying to force their way through police lines and metal barriers is not only a challenge to law enforcement, but is also causes problems for the public and for local businesses trying to conduct their daily business in the midst of this type of demonstration. Do you really need thousands of people shutting a city down to make a political statement? Surely smaller groups could have made the same point?
Many families and individuals found the atmosphere intimidating. According to one onlooker, shoppers were bustled about, shops and pubs closed and some main roads were blocked, although some onlookers did cheer the EDL protest. This costs each city where demonstrations like this are located money that in these times of recession is badly needed for other services. It is insensitive to those who live and work in the area. Unruly counter demonstrations are counter productive, costly and also disrespectful to those who have to tolerate the screaming, pelting and shoving while trying to go about their daily business.
With freedom also comes responsibility.
Those who wish to protest are not the only 'Stakeholders' in our Society. Shoppers, small-business people and ratepayers also have rights. Both the EDL and the UAF appear to be ignoring that. They should consider how to organise their future protests planned for Leeds and Nottingham to avoid confrontation and disruption.
If they do not then they will both rightly be regarded as both hooligans and troublemakers.