The English Defence League (EDL) want to march through our city this summer. After it was reported the group could be marching on the same day as the city’s Pride march, a group emerged wanting the Home Secretary to ban them from entering Bristol altogether.
There is a petition doing the rounds and many councillors are calling for this action… and I find myself in a very uneasy position of disagreeing with such an approach.
First let me unequivocally state my fundamental opposition to the EDL and everything they stand for. I find their beliefs and actions hateful, ignorant and quite disgusting. But I still don’t believe we should ban them from marching.
If we ban them from marching on a particular day, their hard-core members will turn up anyway and cause a commotion. They will make a pretence that they are justified, cause trouble and then go home to stir up more vigour among their wider group. They will then return in greater numbers on the new, prescribed date in a show of defiance. We will have made ‘martyrs’ out of them and they will have ‘won’.
Far better, we allow the police to continue their detailed communications and logistical plans with the group. They can then – I hope – arrange an alternative day that does not clash with the positive celebrations of Pride. When they come, let us show up en masse and peaceably demonstrate that far greater numbers of people in this city find their march a disgrace than a triumph. We will outnumber them 100 to one and the message will be clear. The key though is peaceful resistance.
That is my practical opposition to the banning of the march. My real misgivings come from a fundamental philosophical belief. No matter how much we might disagree with what a certain group stands for we must protect their right to exist and say what they feel is true. If we start with the culture of banning certain groups from entering or marching in this city, when will it end?
With growing social awareness of the coalition’s true intention to dismantle the welfare state within one term of government, more and more people are rising up and saying: “No more.” If we have set a precedent of banning one far right group where do we draw the line? Do we stop the far left from marching? Do we ban the next most offensive group – I believe UKIP’s immigration policy is repugnant; do we strike them from the ballot box?
This might seem like a small point, but freedom of expression and of protest is a human right and it must be defended. Our society is divided; the competitive nature of our economic system creates these divides. Some, such as the Green Party, reason there is a need for radical change using the peaceful tools of inclusiveness, holistic thinking and equality.
Others, like the EDL want to divide, violently forcing a culture of greater exclusivity and survival of the fittest.
One cannot ban the other though, no matter how strongly one group may feel. This is the mark of a civilised country and no matter how vile I might find them, I won’t sign a petition – or vote in council – to ban the EDL marching in Bristol.