The English Defence League – minus most of its recently-resigned leadership – is coming to Bradford on Saturday.
In one sense it is really nice that lost of people from outside the city want to come and visit. They need to know, however, that the weather forecast is shockingly awful and it will be cold.
In response to a request by the local newspaper for a few words about this visit, I offered the following:
The first question we need to ask of the English Defence League is: what sort of ‘England’ do you think you are defending? Is the answer something like: racist, violent, anti-social and destructive?
Where the EDL goes, they disturb ordinary people’s lives, and leave behind a huge financial cost to the police and local authorities. Many ordinary citizens speak of feeling violated.
It is interesting that the leaders of the EDL have just announced their departure on the grounds that the organization has become too extreme and has fallen into the hands of the far right. Well, past experience would suggest that none of this should have come as a blinding revelation. But, Tommy Robinson has now distinguished between “Islamist ideology” and “Muslims”: he wants to be against the former, but not the latter.
For Bradford this is significant. Bradford is mature enough in its community and intercultural relations to be able to face hard questions and to have honest conversations about the challenges as well as the opportunities afforded by our cultural interactions (or lack of them). These challenges are clear, but are best addressed by people who live in Bradford and have a purchase on what happens here. We are big enough to avoid illusions and work towards better integration.
Bradford is rich in diversity – and more colourful than any other city in England. We need to hold firm to our common heritage as we shape what it will mean to be ‘English’ for our grandchildren. The EDL has no place here because it has nothing to bring to the conversation.
Really, this just picks up on something I wrote when Channel Four broadcast its two-part programme entitled ‘Make Bradford British’. Since when was ‘Englishness’ or ‘Britishness’ something we merely inherited rather than something we are creating? In the earlier post (referred to above) I observed:
Focus on the naff title is fair – especially as this first programme, if anything, is clear that Bradford is British. The question is: what does it mean to be British? It seems that when we try to identify identity we look to the past. But, ‘Britishness’ is not some sort of product we inherit and then try to keep in a cultural box; rather, it is evolving as time moves on. We are creating Britain as we go. In this sense, perhaps, the title of the series unwittingly opens up a more productive debate – or provides a better-shaped lens through which to look at local culture: how do we take our responsibility in shaping at every level the Britain we are becoming?
I have no idea what fantasy of ‘England’ the EDL thinks it is defending. And I am not holding my breath that they’ll be able to articulate any coherent vision for the England we might create together.
Whatever. If they make it through the wind and the rain, they’ll find a confident city, facing challenges with eyes open, and they can at least marvel at the wonderful Victorian architecture.