Alex Massie

Let the English Defence League March

Text settings

Speaking of the Black Shorts, there are two ways of dealing with the English Defence [sic] League: ruthless suppression or equally ruthless public mockery. So, with all due and deserved respect to Brother Bright I'm unpersuaded that it's possible to be a "freedom of speech fundamentalist" and support banning the EDL's proposed march through Tower Hamlets.

That the EDL wants to stir up trouble is not in doubt. But unless the view is taken that their organisation should be proscribed, they have rights too and the grimness of their views is not of paramount concern. Indeed, it may be that banning their marches is more useful to them than anything that might happen were they permitted to make their meagre point. That's because, I think, their resentments are largely based upon a desire to see themselves as victims.

If this is so then banning their marches may only bolster their sense of victimhood and paranoia, permitting them to present themselves as the suppressed voice of a common sense so dangerous to the body politic that it must be banned. That is, banning the EDL from marching confirms - to them and their would-be sympathisers - the righteousness of their "cause". Moreover, it allows them to wallow in aggrieved self-pity, contrasting the authorities willingness to limit their activity with the tolerance shown to other disreputable organisation. It feeds their embattled nativism and may even swaddle their brutishness in an undeserved kind of glamour.

They want, nay need, to be seen as victims and, thus, I'm not sure it's wise to help them achieve that goal. Their provocations are deliberate but a more confident response might be to let them do their worst and discover how few supporters they really have and how, far from speaking for some silenced, cowed majority their prejudices are not shared by many and that most people see them for what they are: fools and goons.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleSocietyfreedom of speech