English Defence League (EDL) : Who is stereotyping who?

“Stereotypes are devices for saving a biased person the trouble of learning”

The EDL demonstration in Cambridge on 9th July 2011 was generally a very peaceful affair, and any commotion was no more than you would expect from a few hundred slightly drunk men walking through town on a Saturday afternoon. Apart from disturbing shoppers, and those people who were trying to have a quiet lunchtime drink in Bella Italia, there was nothing of any consequence to report. I’m still not entirely quite clear whether the chanting of “Allah is a paedo” at full volume outside of the pub is in line with the group’s policy – I suspect not.

The general reporting of the EDL is consistently subject to very lazy descriptions which are unnecessarily provocative and help little in gaining a wider understanding of this organisation. Nearly everyone I have spoken to in the EDL is at great pains to point out that they are not racist, not against Muslim people, not Nazis, and are just straight forward working class people ( albeit mainly men) who are concerned about the rise of militant Islam and the lack of integration of certain parts of the Muslim community. They are also totally paranoid about being branded with these descriptions, and they view the media as being single-minded in stereotyping them as such.

It is easy to stereotype, and when the common observation would be of adult men getting drunk, singing anti-Islam songs, being very vocal walking through the city, with each event resulting in some form of violence ( although not always) then it is does play into the stereotyper’s hands. Also, when interviewed, the slightly inebriated EDL member doesn’t articulate their point of view well, and it does come across as being confused and cumbersome. When confronted by someone who has a counter-argument it tends to descend into name-calling and pointless exchanges.

I’m not going to stereotype.

I have met a number of people over the years who hold their views with integrity, they are not racist, or right-wing, or Nazis – but they are being honest in expressing a concern. Holding a view about a section of the community which is not white, is high risk. Political correctness has become so ingrained within us that it is easy for us to make scathing comments about white people, however suggesting exactly the same point about a Muslim person would be frowned upon – this is clearly PC gone mad. This is very much about treating people as equals, and not positively discriminating in any way. Likewise, people who go out of there way to preach hate against the rest of the population, have no place in modern society – this is tantamount to incitement which should be dealt with under the relevant legislation. There is a view that this is dealt with at arm’s length and with some inequality in respect of some sections of the community.

I take at face value when someone from the EDL says that they are in favour of multi-culturalism, and are not against ordinary hard-working Muslims. But I am then confused when they walk round Cambridge with signs saying “No More Mosques!” which are being built with the requisite planning permission and serve the local Muslim population – or is there an implied stereotype that all Muslims are extremists and potential suicide bombers. I listened to a representative from the EDL who was being interviewed by the local media ( so this is on film, and audio somewhere) who stated categorically that it has been “proven” that Mosques breed extremism – citing a Channel 4 Despatches programme as his source. That is probably something of an extrapolation from the specific subjects the programme was covering.

The EDL closely align themselves with the “Help for Heroes” initiative and are very positive and respectful towards the troops in Afghanistan. “Support our Troops” can be seen on their flags – this is very laudable and most people would concur with this position. Unfortunately, I have witnessed a number of people conclude that if you do not agree with their views on Islam then you do not support the troops in Afghanistan – which is clearly a completely illogical connection. This is a convenient way of suggesting that there are two points of view – 100% in favour of the EDL, or against them.

There is a good population in the EDL who do accept that their organisation does attract some less savoury characters whose actions can appeal to the media. Particularly those who are interested in some violence, throwing bottles, or the odd Nazi salute. This is a source of frustration for many, and more so when they feel that they are being branded under that banner.

As a photographer who has been to well over 20 EDL demonstrations I am routinely approached by members of the EDL with less than friendly comments. I am accused of being a communist, working for Searchlight, a member of the UAF, against troops in Afghanistan and other unrepeatable suggestions by virtue of the fact that I have a decent camera and because I’ve been to a number of their events. All of these accusations are untrue, however the simple stereotyping of people taking photographs in a public place of people on a public demonstration does not bear much examination – the crushing irony of this position seems to be completely lost on those perpetrators within the EDL.

More photographs from the EDL in Cambridge

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1 reply

  1. Awesome write up Russel !

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