‘Proud and Prejudiced’ was a programme that seemed to be about two extremist groups: the English Defence League (EDL) and Al Maharijroun (or whatever name they are currently operating under). From the outset, it is clear that the programme makers are working within the premise that these are two groups of extremists both of which are as bad as each other. Nothing could be further from the truth.
One is a religious extremist group which represents an extreme minority view amongst the Muslims in Britain. Another is a racist organisation that has displayed its violent tendencies in public on numerous occasions and is backed by sections of the media that perpetuate the racist undertones espoused by the far right.
For all their ills, Al Muhajiroun have only carried out insensitive political protests at inappropriate times. If white people had carried out the same kind of protests then the reaction would have been very different. There is still a sense that Muslims are not British or that Muslims are not part of our society, part of us. The majority of British Muslims dislike groups like Al Muhajiroun and their ilk. However, it is important to note the climate in which they have emerged. Al Muhajiroun use foreign policy and treatment of Muslims worldwide at the hands of the West as a recruiting tool. They target the disenfranchised inner-city youth who are looking for an identity and fill this void with a pseudo-Islamic identity which gives them affiliation to a faith and the reestablishment of the Caliphate. Al Muhajiroun is an extreme minority born out of post-colonial conflict and a reaction to the Western occupation, destruction, and division of Muslim lands.
The EDL on the other hand, are a product of Britain post New Labour. From the football terraces, and racist organisations throughout the country, they use the seemingly acceptable veneer of fighting Islamic extremism to further a much more sinister agenda – racism. The EDL have gone on racist rampages up and down the country. There is numerous evidence of their links to the BNP and other racist groups as well as videos online of EDL members performing Nazi salutes and singing, “I hate Pakis more than you”. Their members are violent thugs have been convicted of racist acts: putting a pigs head on a mosque for example. It is no coincidence that the Norwegian mass murderer, Andres Breivik, expressed his desire to attend an EDL demo and cited the EDL as one of his influences. This is not fighting Islamic extremism; it is out and out racism.
This documentary is an example of media organisations commissioning sensationalist film making that masks the reality on the ground and ignores the political, cultural and social history of the development of extremism, because lazy journalism is easier than ethical journalism. It may be a convenient story to portray this as two men that just don’t get along, almost like a playground scrap. Journalism is more than simplifying complicated issues, it is about portraying struggles and issues in their appropriate context. It is not balanced or responsible journalism to merely give the two men half an hour each, it is responsible journalism to ask why are people following Al Muhajiroun, and why has the EDL grown so much?
The programme reduces a serious issue of racism and Islamophobia to a personal vendetta between two men. It furthers the EDL’s agenda and plays into their hands to represent Muslims as extremist terrorists: men with massive beards, women you cannot see and children being indoctrinated.
Instead of highlighting the EDL’s violent racism, the only acts of violence that have been highlighted are Safyul Islam slapping Tommy Robinson and, later, Tommy Robinson headbutting one of his own rivals. The documentary has totally missed out all the acts of violence from EDL’s inception to the present day, including when the EDL smashed up Luton and Stoke. It is dangerous to ignore this violence. By turning a blind eye to this violence, the programme risks becoming a platform from which Tommy Robinson can spew their bile. Although some people may laugh them off and say that they are just lunatics with mad ideas, there are those who are disaffected and with whom the EDL’s words and ideas will have resonance.
Although Unite Against Fascism were mentioned a few times on the programme, they were never given any airtime. It was stated that the EDL have been opposed by UAF wherever they have gone. Why were they not interviewed for their views on these groups? To have interviewed UAF for a meaningful argument against the EDL would have meant completely disregarding the foundations that the programme was made on. It would have meant acknowledging the fact that the EDL are not just made up of Tommy Robinson’s mates out to protect the UK from the mores of extremist Muslims like Sayful Islam, but that they are a violent, far-right organisation who pose a real threat to our society. Hearing from UAF would also have put up non-Muslim faces of those who oppose the EDL and shown that, contrary to Robinson’s assertions, white people and other ethnic groups like Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Black people actively oppose these racists. But to do this the programme makers would have to abandon their fantasy and flawed paradigm that this is some kind of scrap between two men with laughable ideas.