Friday, 11 June 2010


From Luton to Tel Aviv –

the trajectory of imperialistic fraternity

By Dan Renwick for Sons of Malcolm

"To label the EDL and ZF "racist" is too crude. They are imperialists committed to the perpetuation of Orientalism and European hegemony. The saddest thing about both movements however is how divorced they are from reality. They are products of deceit; a lie that argues that the social alignments of liberalism are conceived on the basis of moral values and not the dogma of the market."

This week we witnessed the conjunction of the English Defence League (EDL) and the Zionist federation (ZF) who united for a rally in support of Israel's brutal raid on the Freedom Flotilla. Despite both the BBC and The Guardian covering the rise of the EDL of late, both failed to cover the story of this troublesome matching.

The EDL are crudely referred to as a “far-right organisation”. They were formed in Luton following Muslims challenging British soldiers returning from their conquests in Afghanistan with placards with messages like "murderers". In response a group of "concerned citizens" attacked the demonstrators and rampaged around Luton. When national outrage was felt due to this "attack on the pride of British heroes”, the campaign became national and in their wisdom they called it the English Defence League, excluding Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales from their name, while planning marches in all UK major cities.

What the EDL have mobilised to support are the values of English/British society which are "under attack" from the ever elusive “Sharia”. While some may wish to label them akin to the BNP, their genealogy is not so simple; I trace their rhetoric to Blair more than Mosley. In the simplest possible terms, they have domesticated the foreign policy of the West. What Blair attacked Afghanistan for are the same reasons the EDL are planning to attack Bradford and Tower Hamlets. Their reasoning is “humanitarian”: Islam in its political form “Islamism” subjugates women, enshrines patriarchy, encourages violence, is homophobic and is diametrically opposed to liberalism and representative democracy – it therefore must be eradicated from within Britain.

The EDL believe themselves to be bastions of toleration; defence structures guarding the moral nucleus that so typifies European thought. They not only grossly misunderstand the notion of toleration, immortalised with Voltaire's "I may not like what you say, but I shall fight to the death for your right to say it" (which, unfortunately for them, includes political Islam) - they also strongly misunderstand the basis of the faith they oppose; swallowing hook, line and sinker the propaganda that justified a war of political strategy fought under the guise of "moral values". The source of the EDL's political venom derives solely from the post 9/11 world where "Muslim" and "terrorist" became synonyms. It is only with this point of clarification in mind that the EDL's affinity Zionism can be understood. Israel are the "civilising force" in the Middle-East and need support in their "humanitarian" moral conquest to turn those misguided "Islamists" into liberals. At the heart of both movements thinking is the white man's burden of bringing "civilisation" to the world through uncivilised means. Both the EDL and the Zionists accept and endorse violence to subjugate and sedate the communities they fear.

To label the EDL and ZF "racist" is too crude. They are imperialists committed to the perpetuation of Orientalism and European hegemony. The saddest thing about both movements however is how divorced they are from reality. They are products of deceit; a lie that argues that the social alignments of liberalism are conceived on the basis of moral values and not the dogma of the market. They valorise liberal democracy missing its oligarchic nature. Their moral universality knows no bounds, unless of course you are Muslim/Arab/"Paki". Principles of exclusion are embedded within both outlooks - there is an enemy within and without that needs to be expunged - only then can a moral foreign policy and domestic society come into fruition.

Their fear of the other derives from a fictious existential threat, paranoia being their greatest recruitment technique. Both movements are the outcome of a nationalistic lie that was told to justify the appropriation of an other's resources. For the Zionists, the Arabs became the evil villains who have a natural propensity to replicate Hitler. For the EDL the Taliban are the voicebox of all Muslims, those who accept Liberal values only do so to assimilate. When the Caliphate is re-established the essentialism to the Arab/South Asian skin colour will spark a shift in mind state that will turn great British citizens into jihadi Islamists. Both movements can be traced to an ideology that propagates fear in order to justify aggression.

One may want to make this argument about the lack of political acumen in the Zionist movement, if they believe they can align with the far-right and not accept the anti-Semitism that they are killing Palestinians to eradicate. However, this is too reliant upon a conception of the right that is divorced from the ideology of our times and completely misses the essence of Zionism; colonialism. This alliance is the logical outcome of a project of imperialism and has been defended as "left wing" by the likes of Nick Cohen and Tony Blair. The right we now face talk a completely different discourse; a post-modern, euphemistic language of libertarianism and morality. "Scratch the EDL find the BNP" may be true to some of the divisions, like Stoke, but to assume homogeneity nationally is problematic and lazy. Given the complete lack of engagement of the traditional left with this topic, and the imminent threat of a repeat of the riots of 2001 in Bradford and Tower Hamlets - we have to ask - can we really afford for this laziness to continue?


Dan Renwick can be contacted at:


Benjamin Zephaniah interviewed by Dan Glazebrook
exclusive for
Sons of Malcolm

[pic of Benjamin Zephaniah courtesy and copyright of Linda Oliver]

Part 1: Racism and Britain
'Racism today is a lot more sinister'

We were very lucky to get this interview. Benjamin is only in the country for a day or so (he now spends most of his time in Beijing studying martial arts), and we very nearly missed our meeting with him due to a faulty hotel phone system.

But the real reason we were lucky to meet him is that Benjamin Zephaniah is one of very few cultural icons who not only deserve that status, but have consistently used it to further the principles of social justice, cross-cultural understanding and working class unity. He is a household name, and yet – very publicly and in no uncertain terms - refused an OBE; and followers of his work will know that his most recent output is, if anything, more fiery, more biting and more determined than ever – just see his latest collection Too Black, Too Strong for proof of that. And yet he also knows that remaining true to your principles cannot be an excuse for failing to engage the masses; indeed, he is deadly serious about ensuring that his message remains accessible to as large an audience as possible; that it does not drift off into a critically-acclaimed, but otherwise ignored, elitist hinterland. To this end, he will utilise any means necessary to get his message across, and he hates the idea of being restricted to some kind of straight-jacketed view of what poets can do, as he makes clear early on in our meeting: Originally poetry was oral; it was story telling, and if you wanted to make a point by being funny or going into another character, no one stopped you and said ‘no, you can’t do that, that’s stand up’. You were just a spoken word artist. In West Africa, they have this word “greot” which is someone who goes from village to village, and if they want to talk about a political issue, they talk about it, if they want to do a poem they do a poem, if they want to talk about HIV and AIDS and do some awareness stuff they just do it, if they want to sing, they just do it – nobody says ‘but the last time you came here you were doing poetry!’ One of the things that gets on my nerves in England is people asking me – are you a musician, are you a poet, are you a political commentator? and I can only say, well - I’m all of those things.”

Indeed, Benjamin often blurs the lines between journalism and poetry – utilising rhythm and rhyme in his articles, whilst giving detailed analysis of real life events in poems like The Death of Joy Gardner, (who was killed by immigration officers in 1993). This all has to do, he explains, with the needs of the community at the time: Poems like Joy Gardner come out of this tradition where we had to go around the community centres to tell these stories, because they weren’t represented in the mainstream media. Sometimes the government would quietly pass immigration bills, for example, and our parents - who it really affected - wouldn’t know about it. So we would have to go and perform in an elderly Caribbean centre or whatever because otherwise they wouldn’t know about it. So we were what I call ‘alternative newscasters’”

More recently, Benjamin has been deeply involved in the Justice for Mikey Powell campaign. Powell, Benjamin’s cousin, was run over and badly beaten by police in Birmingham before being thrown face down in the back of a police car, where he died from asphyxiation. As he explains, “I was already working with Inquest, which is the organisation who monitor deaths in custody, and at one AGM I told the audience that what happened to these people [people killed in police custody like Chistopher Alder, Roger Sylvester and many others] could happen to any of us. And then a couple of years later, I was standing in front of them again but now it had happened to my cousin. So my family and me were now “users” of Inquest. It shows you that none of us are immune – here am I, Benjamin Zephaniah, patron of Inquest and client of Inquest at the same time.”

But whilst the real Benjamin was supporting the victims of police brutality, he discovered that his image was being used to lend credibility to its perpetrators: the very same police force that killed his cousin have a poster of Benjamin on the wall of the police station, presumably to show their support for positive race relations. How do they get away with it this brazen hypocrisy – and murder?

“The truth is that the political class and the police - the establishment - are a law unto themselves. You see them literally stealing money and getting away with it; you see them literally doing crimes and you see them murdering people and getting away with it. We see them on video sometimes beating people and it goes to court and somehow they get off! And you think how can that be?! Sometimes it just blows me away. It’s like magic…”

I bring up the recent revelations about MI5’s complicity in torture and rendition. But he points out that this is not an entirely new phenomenon: “I can honestly say that I have been tortured in Britain. I’ve been tortured in a police station where they’ve put cigarettes out on me naked until I talked. When I was fifteen or sixteen they put me in a police station and made me stand in a corridor and every time a copper came past, they just stamped on my feet. I’ll never forget this policewoman coming past who just smiled at me and I thought oh, she’s ok - and she took her high heels and just went bang! into my feet. That’s torture.” What about the police in Britain today - have things improved at all? “Well, now there are more questions asked, so what they do in the intelligence service is that they privatise it, they ship it out…” he says, in reference to rendition. “And the way that the police stop and search black and Asian people is pretty much the same, but it’s not the SUS law now; they do it under the Anti-terrorism Act.” By way of example, he explains how he saw an Asian man being stopped on his way back from a club recently. The police told him he was being searched under section 44 of the Anti-Terrorism Act. “The guy was just so shocked! He said ‘Wha? Do I look like a terrorist or something?!’ And the policeman comes up to him, right up close, and says: “not only do you look like a terrorist, but you smell like one”. And that whole attitude of the cop was something I was very familiar with when I was a kid. I came away from that incident thinking nothing has changed.” Nothing at all? “Some things have changed. There are more black people on television, there are now black judges and black magistrates - I think it was unheard of when I was in court – the police have to be a bit more accountable when they stop you – and so we’ve improved in that sense. But in another sense we’ve taken so many steps backwards. With the English Defence League it’s like having the blackshirts on the streets again. They’re the kind of racist that starts a sentence by saying “I’m not a racist but..” and then they do all their racism. And that’s what all the political parties are doing at the moment – they cover their racism with talk about “this is not about racism, this is about immigration”, and in a way it’s a lot more sinister.”

Part 2 of 3 coming soon.