Beware bigotry wrapped in the cloak of liberalism

In the wake of Woolwich, the racists are coming to our streets later this month. Yet as ANDREW FISHER reports, even one of Labour’s candidates in the Croydon Central parliamentary selection has accepted the endorsement of an “anti-sharia campaigner”

Croydon is one of the most diverse and integrated boroughs in London, and like many residents I love it for that very reason.

I’m also passionate about opposing those who seek to divide our community for political ends – as some tried to do in the Croydon North by-election last year.

The English Volunteer Force: coming to a Croydon street near you, soon

The English Volunteer Force: coming to a Croydon street near you, soon

In the last month, the Tory-led government that is dismantling and privatising the NHS has been whipping up fears about foreigners, with propaganda about “health tourism”. The reality is that “foreigners” put far more into the NHS than the 0.01 per cent of resources that they use. Nevertheless, with UKIP daily winning defectors from the Conservative party, this little-Englander xenophobia is effective as a distraction. But it is dangerous for whipping up division.

Our borough and our city have a strong record of rejecting division. The horrific events in Woolwich have failed to ignite the “clash of civilisations” that the English Defence League or British National Party have attempted to make them.

Later this month, on July 27, a splinter group from the EDL called the “English Volunteer Force” will be protesting in Croydon against “Islamification” and “mass immigration”. They will be targeting the Home Office Immigration and Nationality Directorate building at Lunar House and a nearby mosque.

A rainbow coalition of local religious groups, the Labour party, trades unions, the Green party and anti-fascist campaigners are likely to outnumber the racists in a counter-demonstration, and show that our community will not be divided.

The reason for the failure of such groups is perhaps obvious – the vision for England they wish to defend is one that is rejected by the overwhelming majority of English and British people. Strangely, such groups on the far right have more in common with the fanatics they rail against than they do with the mainstream of British opinion. They support political violence, reject an integrated society and share the same perverted analysis of Islam, recognising only the interpretation of a tiny minority of fanatics that are totally divorced from the beliefs of the vast majority of Britain’s 1.8 million Muslims.

Anne-Marie Waters: would you want to endorsement of this woman in a Labour party selection?

Anne-Marie Waters: would you want her endorsement in a Labour party selection?

But such analyses are not limited to the members of the EDL or EVF. There is also a vocal minority of people who wrap their Islamophobia in the veil of secularism and the values of “western civilisation”. Western civilisation, as Gandhi said, “would be a good idea”. But the likes of the EDL claim that Islam is inherently violent, homophobic  and sexist.

Of course, there are examples of such behaviour among some Muslims – just as there are among some Christians, Jews and atheists. But to ascribe such sentiments as peculiarly, or even particularly, Islamic is absurd. You may as well judge Christianity by the behaviour of the zealots of the Westboro Baptist Church in the United States. Such shallow analyses – wrapped in the language of academia and enlightenment – are no less poisonous or ill-informed than the rantings of Nick Griffin.

Ogilvy gets backing of “anti-sharia campaigner”

In fact, they can be even more dangerous due to the veneer of liberal credibility. Disappointingly, Catriona Ogilvy, the former Lambeth activist who is a candidate for the Labour selection in Croydon Central, has chosen to have the endorsement of self-styled “anti-sharia campaigner” Anne-Marie Waters on her campaign leaflet.

Waters, wrapping herself in the cloak of liberal secularism, vociferously makes the sort of ridiculous and divisive allegations that you might expect from the far right, including bizarre claims that Islam is “new to Europe”.

Click here for the rebuttal by Mehdi Hasan.

As Owen Jones, the Labour activist and Independent columnist, has argued, “Islamophobia is the secularism of fools”, merely a scrubbed-up version of the divisive arguments of the BNP and EDL. Of course Ogilvy herself may not share her supporter’s views, but if she wouldn’t want the endorsement of the EVF, why would the endorsement of someone who holds similar views be acceptable?

Sexism, homophobia and violence all need to be argued against – in all cultures – but essentialising such views to Islam is not only inaccurate, it is unlikely to strengthen those many Muslims who are challenging such views within their faith. Instead it feeds the “clash of civilisations” narrative that the right-wing fanatics of race hate and religious fundamentalism both thrive upon.

Thankfully, the majority of people who live, work and socialise in our increasingly integrated society reject such division.

But bigotry wrapped in the cloak of liberalism is no better than that wrapped in the swastika.

Previous columns by Andrew Fisher:

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17 Responses to Beware bigotry wrapped in the cloak of liberalism

  1. I would be interested to know why you think that UKIP is a Party of little-Englanders and is xenophobic? UKIP is the exact opposite of that. We are a libertarian party and so we like everyone regardless as to where they were born.

    Many UKIP activists were not only born outside the UK but are married to someone also born outside of the UK. Indeed the leader, Nigel Farage, is married to a German.

    What UKIP is against is UNCONTROLLED immigration. We need immigrants, but only those who would benefit the economy with skills we need, such as doctors and nurses. There is no point in allowing in unskilled people from Eastern Europe when there are nearly 1 million unemployed British people aged between 18 and 24.

    All UKIP is asking for is to have the same controls on immigration that exist in Canada, Australia and USA. That is to have a work permit system

    UKIP is also against privatising the NHS.

    • Where in the piece does it say, as you claim, “that UKIP is a Party of little-Englanders and is xenophobic”?

      Looks like a policy of compulsory reading comprehension lessons for UKIP’s prospective council candidates ought to be in the manifesto, Peter.

      Though given the various prejudices expressed by the UKIP candidate in Croydon North last year, and Farage’s on-going impersonation of “Angry of Tunbridge Wells”, I am sure we will have some fun in reminding you of your protest that your party is neither of those things.

    • andrewfisher79 says:

      Peter – why anyone would think that UKIP, which wants independence for an already independent country, is xenophobic is beyond me …

      However, what I describe as “little Englander and xenophobic” is the Tory dog-whistle (I wouldn’t give it the credibility of calling it a policy) to charge foreigners to use the NHS. This I believe is motivated to take back some of the anti-immigrant vote that has switched from the Tories to UKIP.

      Of course on your substantial point, the UK – in recent times at least – has not had uncontrolled immigration. But as ever, don’t the let the facts get in the way of your hysterical scaremongering that apparently causes such panic that your finger slips onto CAPS LOCK for no discernible reason.

  2. Ken Towl says:

    I watched the video of Anne-Marie Waters debating Islam. She makes a reasoned argument. You may agree or disagree with it but it is a valid position to hold and she argues it in the context of a traditional debate. To compare her and her views with the EDL/EVF and their views is stretching things a bit. I can only guess that the writer Mr Fisher has tied his colours to one of the other candidates and is doing his little best to advance her fortunes. It would not be entirely cynical to see this as a tactic designed to discredit Ms Ogilvy who, I would guess, would find the views of racist islamophobic bigots to be repulsive.

    • Catriona Ogilvy might have declined to accept the support of Waters. Or opted not to publicise such support. She did neither.

      • mraemiller says:

        To be fair to Ms O …Ms Waters is one of 10 supporters who gave her a flattering quote in her latest propaganda leaflet …it is not beyond belief that she didn’t know of Ms Water’s background as a loudmouth about Islam. She’s already pissed off people Labour supporters in Brighton…
        …probably moved here after new people to annoy.

        Even so it shows a certain naivety and lack of acumen on behalf of Ms O not to do some basic research about the people you mean to quote… still not the end of the world. Just a bit silly…

        4Thought is an awful program and the only thought I ever take away from it is if we lived in a dictatorship it might be worth it just to eliminate some of the chronic bores who moan on it in depressing monotones on it about whatever as if their drab opinions spoke in drab voices in a white void that cuts in and out between shots ot their mouths unfortunately moving and shut are anything but … void …is it some kind of statutary filler?

        She may have a point in some of her criticism of Islam but her views seem rather one sided and unbalanced -as though she has stacked up every negative thing she could find out about it into one rant. There is little light and shade in her rants and the viewer is left with the impression that it is religion its self she really objects to – Islam just happening to be the easiest one to kick. And I dont think that’s because she’s just putting forward one side in a debate. Maybe she is angling to be the next Kate Smurthwaite? Or maybe she’s one of those secretly pro-Israel Islam bashers. There’s usually another, deeper, more sinister agenda. The Iraq War to Ms Waters is probably just something that happened to other people.

        I dont believe everyone has a right to live in Croydon and I think Anne Marie Waters should either a) accept our values or b) leave

    • andrewfisher79 says:

      The views expressed by the far right are entirely similar – both assign all the crimes of oppressive regimes and al-Qaeda terrorism to Islam. It’s a ridiculous argument that smears at worst and ignores at best the vast majority of Muslims who reject both. It’s exactly the same tactics used by the far right to justify their hatred.

      Since you asked, I’m happy to declare that I have not yet supported any candidate in the Croydon Central selection. I initially backed Jane Avis, but she was not shortlisted. I expect I will back one of the two Croydon councillors, but we’ll see …

  3. Ken Towl says:

    I don’t understand. Why should Catriona Ogilvy decline Waters’ endorsement? Waters’ views are not offensive. She makes a fairly orthodox critiique of Wahabi islam, the type prevalent in Saudi Arabia and adhered to by Osama Bin Laden. She is a million miles away from the drunken thugs of the EDL.

    • andrewfisher79 says:

      When does Waters mention ‘Wahabi Islam’?

      Equating the practice of Saudi Arabia’s undemocratic western-backed rulers with Islam is absurd nonsense and deeply offensive – and exactly the sort of misrepresentation made by the likes of the BNP.

    • mraemiller says:

      I disagree “you must accept our rights and freedoms or you should a) not come here or b) leave” is a bit Alf Garnett.

      Of course everyone should obey the law but that doesn’t mean they should all have to agree with every law, which is what she is saying.

      She also talks about how “the fear is that into Europe are coming ideas that have already been debated” and “we really shouldn’t have to fight those battles again”. What she’s really saying is she doesn’t think that SHE should have to debate ANYTHING with immigrants because they are aliens from outside. Which is like saying they are second class people or something.

      But you can’t allow immigration and expect everyone who comes in to fit in with your point of view. And successive governments of all hues seem to be dismal failures in “controlling” immigration since someone invented the jet airplane. Her argument is “I was born here” so “I don’t have to debate with them” they should go away if they dont fit in. Now there’s nothing wrong with expecting people to assimilate but that’s a bit extreme in my view – expecting everyone who comes to think your thoughts or go away. Scratch the surface of Richard “I wouldn’t visit a dentist if I knew they were religious but I’ll lobby to raise tuition fees” Dawkins’s disciples and many of them are just as bigoted as the religious. But of course they’re educated and have been to Oxbridge and dont live in New Addington so can’t be Emma West.

      People like her always rant about Islam. Well, I’ll just make the point then that… it wasn’t Islam that blew up the Caterham Arms and it wasn’t Islam that planted the Bishopsgate bomb. It was Maria Gatland’s mob – but how quickly stuff like that is forgotten when it’s politically convenient.

      It always seemed particularly ironic to me that growing up we were supposed to be Catholic, went to a Catholic Church that had been built by Captain William Harriott Roe from the local barracks in the first place as it had a strong Catholic contingent still, but the IRA, who also claimed to be Catholic, were intent on blowing us and the local barracks we lived next to up all the time because …? I’m sure there was a good reason. Not to mention their fixation with blowing up the city and my dad – presumably for having a highly sectarian job underwriting insurance which was clearly the cause of all the troubles.

      Basically most of what the IRA did on the mainland was little more than killing and demonising its own people, wasn’t it? Where’s the logic in that? There isn’t any. Islamic extremism and the EDL/EVL are just a new generation of the same old nonsense if you ask me and while it’s not a great slogan for promoting Islam – I don’t think they’ve killed as many people as the “troubles” did. The EDL/EVL marching to “protect our streets” or whatever are just a new generation of Orangemen … A minority who’s purpose is not really protest but intimidation and drivel on about being “British” while having no respect for the nation they pretend to protect … their real motivation is self-interest.

      It’s all the same nonsense that just repeats its self over and over… how depressing …even more depressing that I’ve wasted all this time trying to answer it.

  4. Ken Towl says:

    She doesn’t but she refers to it when she cites the type of Islam prevalent in Saudi Arabia.

    The practice of Saudi Arabia’s western-backed rulers is one aspect of Islam (the Wahabi one). There are others. To criticise this is not deeply offensive. Wahabi beliefs are offensive to many people.

    The BNP are very different from Ann-Marie Waters. Her “misrepresentation – if indeed it is one – is not “exactly the sort of misrepresentation made by the likes of the BNP”. She is trying to provoke a valid debate; the BNP try to promote racial and religious hatred..

    Inherent violence in any religion or political philosophy is a moot point; You could argue this for Christianity too, or socialism or Capitalism (as Ken Livingstone did a few years ago.


  5. mraemiller says:

    In other news I recently discovered on the EVL website that one can now get an EVL “business card”. Now I realise why I’ve been finding it so hard to clinch deals. If only I had one – I’m sure it would solve all my business problems.

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