So Laurie Penny has been all “controversial” again in the matter of anti-fascism (this btw is the same person who has tried to slander the people who were involved in writing this book as racists and misogynists merely for criticising her work). This is the same person who appears on platforms such as the Oxford Union pretending that shes a “revolutionary socialist” but at the same time claiming that people like Anthony Seldon are her mentors.
“Fuck anyone who believes that violence is an answer to violence” she says. In other words, fuck the International Brigades. Fuck the partisans of WWII. Fuck Anti Fascist Action. Fuck the 43 Group. Fuck the residents of Cable Street. Fuck anyone who has used violence to oppose fascism and racism.
Laurie Penny attacks the EDL and says she is not terrified of Islamic extremism, but then she gives their views a platform, she gets kettled with them and “interviews” them for twitter.
On a previous occasion she actually bought the EDL leader dinner
in an expensive restaurant! o ETA: ordering the most expensive thing on the menu for him. It has been pointed out to me that the restaurant wasn’t necessarily expensive but it was a long time since I read the article.
There is nothing wrong with writing about fascists. There is also nothing wrong with talking to people who may be attracted to fascist and far-right explanations of events and trying to change their views by challenging them. But what Laurie Penny and Vice magazine, who recently gave a platform to David Icke and also did a bit of far-right tourism in Hungary do is simply self-aggrandizing careerism, giving a platform to people like that in order to build up their journalistic reputations without considering the social and political implications of what they are doing.
I don’t want this whole thing to be about Laurie Penny but I will quickly say, that she states in the article that she is not worried or scared about Islamist extremism. I think that she is wrong and that I am scared and that she should be scared.She is also wrong to equate Islamist extremism to Islam, and the irony of her taking fascist leaders to
expensive restaurants and then saying that the EDL are a threat and that Islamist extremism is not shouldn’t be lost. I am not afraid of Islam or Muslims at all, that does not mean that Islamist religious fanaticism does not worry me.
The murder in Woolwich shocked me because of the brutality and the random nature of it, and I am sorry to say that I am worried by Islamist extremism whether it’s in Egypt with the members of the Muslim Brotherhood killing protesters, attacking workers on strike and protecting government and military institutions and terrorising religious minorities, or over here. I am also worried by zionism and Jewish religious extremism in Israel and the policies of the Israeli government which are increasingly suicidal and murderous. the threat from Islamist extremism in this country is still tiny i don’t think wishing the problem away is going to solve anything.
The whole idea of “freedom of speech” does not exist in a vacuum, when you share a platform with somebody or give them a platform for their views to be aired far and wide (or for that matter allow them to give you a platform) you are not simply doing that.
No platform is not about suppressing people’s freedom of speech. The strongest advocates of no platform would oppose any attempt by the state to impose bans on fascist organisations because of the use of such legislation against any demonstrations by more progressive groups, but would argue that such organisations need to be challenged by the community and some of them would argue that the use of physical force is sometimes necessary. Some organisations such as UAF and the SWP have interpreted this to mean they can plead with the state to ban fascist demonstrations (while denouncing any criticism of far-right Islamists, who they have been quite happy to give a platform to in the past and even pander to by adopting things like segregated seating etc, as racist).
But you cannot rely on the state to protect you against fascism, or Islamist extremism for that matter. The same state which has allowed these conditions to develop. But neither can you somehow hope you can defeat these people through rational argument, by not challenging the views of hardcore fascists and accepting they’re “equally valid”, or for that matter by insulting their spelling and insulting their intelligence (and by extension the intelligence of everyone in the community they came from) as many of the members of facebook groups like “Still Laughing at the English Defence League” tend to do with their classist (and frequently prejudiced in other ways as well) sneering.
Much of the reason for the growth in Islamism and the far right is because of a break down of community and the fact that people will often seek out anything, no matter what it is – that’s why initiatives like the community unions could potentially have such a lot of potential, as well as things like football tournaments which are organised for the whole community. Things like this are very very encouraging – especially because it will drive a wedge between ideological fash and a lot of their soft support who may just be alienated and pissed off. The left used to be masters at this stuff, lets do it again and not necessarily leave it to religious groups.
But when organised groups of fascists start trying to firebomb mosques etc (or for that matter Islamist far-right extremists call for the murder of gay people) I don’t think banal platitudes such as “don’t fight violence with violence” are at all an answer because it is just drawing an equivalence between their violence and that of people trying to oppose them. The only way they can be stopped is through the people who agree with them being faced with the reality of their views being wrong, of seeing the people they are blaming for all their problems as people.
But some people won’t see it so they will often have to be physically confronted, and when the soft centre left is trying to hold anti-fascists back while at the same time giving fash views a platform in the media for no other reason than to further your career and sneering at them for being uneducated rather than engaging with their politics, thus creating the conditions which enables it to succeed, then they are worse than useless.