After Woolwich

During the past two months, the killing of off-duty soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich on 22 May has been exploited to boost the propaganda offensives of both the British military and the English Defence League (EDL). The day after Rigby’s death, over 100 EDL supporters gathered in Woolwich, draped in St George’s flags, many sporting black balaclavas with the EDL logo on, chanting: 'No surrender to the Muslim scum', ‘Rule Britannia’ and ‘Eng-er-land’. Since then the EDL has held marches and rallies in Newcastle, London, Sheffield, Birmingham and elsewhere. Most of these events have not been especially well attended and anti-fascist counter-demonstrations have frequently been as big or bigger; however the increasing frequency of these set-piece events is only one facet of the ongoing backlash. Nicki Jameson reports.

Racist attacks on the rise

In the 24 hours following Rigby’s death, mosques in Gillingham, Braintree, Maidenhead, Bolton, Bletchley, Grimsby, Poole and Belfast were daubed with graffiti and attacked with paint, bottles and bricks. Such incidents have continued ever since, as have racist attacks on individuals, coupled with an endless stream of anti-Muslim bile in the tabloid press and on social media. On 5 June the building housing the Al Rahma Islamic Centre and Somali Bravanese Welfare Association in Muswell Hill, north London was burned to the ground. In the West Midlands police are currently investigating a suspected campaign of bomb attacks against mosques in Walsall, Tipton and Wolverhampton, one of which took place on the day of Rigby’s funeral. The bombings have been linked to the murder of an 82-year-old man, who was stabbed to death while leaving a mosque in Birmingham on 29 April.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. A recent report by Nigel Copsey of Teeside University, based in the main on information from the ‘Tell Mama’ project (Mama = ‘monitoring anti-Muslim attacks’), showed that 40-60% of mosques in Britain have been targeted since the 11 September 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon. On 29 May 2013, Tell Mama reported that there had been 200 anti-Muslim incidents in the week since Rigby’s death.

Whilst the EDL never openly condones such attacks and its official line is that it is not against Muslims in general but only against ‘Islamic extremism’, the organisation clearly provides a pole of attraction for those who want to take revenge for Rigby’s death and whose target is any and all Muslims.

The EDL and the British army

On 20 July, following an EDL march through Birmingham, the organisation’s leader Stephen Lennon told Channel 4 news that the Woolwich killing had led to a massive increase in support and, in particular, an influx of members of the armed forces.

This is hardly surprising. As Lennon told the Channel 4 reporter: ‘We’re passionate about our armed forces. The EDL was created in defence of our armed forces, we will continue to defend our armed forces…Our military are trained to fight against Sharia and then when they come home are they supposed to turn that off? They’re trained to fight and battle this…’

As we wrote in FRFI in 2010, a year after the formation of the EDL: ’The EDL... is a populist domestic reflection of the British state’s imperialist interests in the Middle East and its vicious attacks on Muslim communities in Britain.’ (‘Who are the English Defence League?’ FRFI 215 June/July 2010 )

Don’t mention the war

With the elevation of Lee Rigby to the status of a fallen hero, the mainstream British media has concentrated on highlighting quotes from family and friends about how this ‘fun-loving’ young man and ‘gentle soul’ had ‘fulfilled his dreams’ by serving in the British army. All this may well be the case, but this is still the same British army whose soldiers in Afghanistan have repeatedly shot dead unarmed civilians, including children and people with learning difficulties, which has systematically tortured defenceless men and women in Iraq, and which has a centuries’ long history of brutal and bloody invasion and occupation across all the continents of the world. Of course none of this features in any of the eulogies and you have to scroll a long way through the news reports of his death and funeral even to find out that Lee Rigby served in Afghanistan as a machine-gunner.

This angle is no accident. An entire media offensive is at work, encompassing Help for Heroes, army wives’ choirs, Olympic rowing medallists who are serving soldiers, poppy day, and myriad other stories. Its aim is to keep the spotlight on the individual bravery and likeableness of soldiers and away from the wars that they are fighting, which we are invited to see, if not as actually progressive and humanitarian, at least as neutral and inevitable.

The reality is that British soldiers are tools of imperialism. The British army’s role in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Ireland or any of the other countries which it has invaded and occupied, is not that of ‘self-defence’ or peacekeeping. Britain’s wars are xenophobic and bloody, resulting in millions of dead, wounded, displaced, traumatised men, women and children, and ravaged, scorched earth environments. They are not aimed at saving or preserving any way of life but at subjugating peoples, stealing resources and, above all, making profit for the imperialist ruling classes of the so-called civilised western nations.

To ensure the success of this agenda, the true nature of the war is hidden as much as possible, with victims either remaining anonymous or being depicted as somehow responsible for their own fate. Meanwhile groups and communities here in Britain who would politically or culturally support the peoples under attack are repressed and terrorised – the Irish in the 1970s and ‘80s; Muslim people today. This terrorising takes many forms, both official and unofficial. So, while the government and its media officially condemn the overt racism of the EDL and the actions of the criminals who attack mosques and Muslims, in reality all these groups play their part in the imperialist war machine.


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