Against Terrorism, but…

I tried to go to the rally organised by the Football Lads Alliance and Veterans Against Terrorism with an open mind, or at least one that would have been pleased to be able to show that some of the things people had said about them was untrue. I certainly don’t believe that the great majority of football supporters are racist or Islamophobic, and on my brief previous encounter with the FLA as they photographed themselves with club wreaths on London Bridge had found no evidence to show they were other than typical football fans.

Of course there had been some disturbing revelations, not least about the group’s founder John Meighan and his former record as a football hooligan, and there were sure to be some in the large crowd with racist views. And as I walked to the protest I passed a couple of pubs with people standing outside drinking, some of whom I recognised from protests by the EDL and other far right groups – and some who made it clear that they recognised me. But as I mingled with the crowd of several thousand on Park Lane I began to hope that such people were in a small minority.

But then came the speeches, and any such hopes were dashed. Not just by what the speakers themselves were saying, but by the reaction of the crowd, a large proportion of whom seemed to be spiritedly endorsing racist and Islamophobic sentiments. It came to a head with a vast eruption when the name of Diane Abbott was mentioned, and amid th huge noise I could clearly hear a loud voice behind me shouting “Rape Her!”.

I photographed them as they lined up ready to march, and then left, rejoining the march later as it neared Trafalgar Square. Here they were joined by a couple of hundred Gurkhas and their supporters for the final stretch down to Westminster Bridge where they were to lay wreaths.

Although protests and campaigns led to Gurkhas with more than 4 years service in the British Army being allowed to live in the UK those who retired before 1997 receive pensions under a special scheme for Gurkhas operated before then which are only around a third or a quarter of those of other army veterans, and live in poverty. They include many who served for long periods and wear the decorations they were awarded for gallantry. A small amount of support in providing affordable homes was announced in 2015, together with larger measures for those remaining in Nepal, but many in the UK are still being treated very shabbily, and their cause attracts a high degree of public support, but has failed to move the Tory government.

For a few yards the Gurkhas headed the march, but were soon overtaken as it went down Whitehall. A small group of anti-racist protesters were waiting for them opposite Downing St, handing out leaflets. Although they had been at some lengths to point out that this was not a counter-demonstration, and the leaflet was asking questions about the organisation and how it intended to ensure that it stood up to the principles it had itself announced, many on the march reacted angrily.

Although a few took the leaflets and walked along quietly reading it, others snatched the fliers from the hands of those handing them out and scattered them, or took leaflets simply to tear them up in the faces of those distributing them, others shouted in rage, and a few made to attack the anti-racists, but were restrained by police who were standing alongside those handing the leaflets out.

One woman came across to shout at me, accusing me of calling her and the FLA and racist. Which I hadn’t done and was just there recording the event, taking photographs. Some of the FLA and Veterans Against Terrorism came to try and stop the abuse and to move people on – the end of the march had come to a halt. Finally police reinforcements arrived and pushed the crowd on and they slowly moved away. I watched from a distance as around a thousand made it to Westminster Bridge for the wreath-laying, though by this time rather more had disappeared. I sat eating a sandwich in Parliament Square with a large group of them around me discussing noisily what they should do; some were clearly upset by the way things had gone and were complaining about the way they felt the movement was being dominated by extremists.

Certainly not all of those at the rally and march are racists, not all are Islamophobic. But it does seem clear that there is a core of racists and Islamophobes at the centre of the organisation, including many with previous form in ultra-right organisations including the EDL and the National Front. And it is also clear that the kind of simple solutions that some of the speakers proposed are unworkable, breach every concept of human and civil rights and would have truly disastrous results for our society. There simply are no simple solutions and you have to be simple or dangerously duplicitous to propose them.

Football Lads Alliance Rally
Football Lads Alliance March
Stand Up To Racism and the FLA


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