by Eleanor Beevor
- Three far-right activists were banned from the U.K. under anti-terrorism Laws
- Tommy Robinson vowed to defend their freedom of speech
- Robinson delivered a speech at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park on Sunday
- The speech was on behalf of banned far-right activist Martin Sellner
Matters have escalated quickly since the British government banned three far-right activists from the U.K. last week. Lauren Southern, Brittany Pettibone and Martin Sellner, all of whom have large online followings, were detained and then removed from the country.
Sellner, a young Austrian activist and leader of Generation Identity, an “identitarian” white nationalist movement, had been due to give a speech at Speaker’s Corner, an area of Hyde Park in London that is an open platform for speakers and symbolises free speech in the U.K..
After the activists were detained, their supporters sprang into action. Most vocal was Tommy Robinson, the former leader of the English Defense League, and Britain’s most prominent far-right voice. Robinson said that he would not allow Sellner’s message to be silenced, and would read the speech Sellner had planned to give at Speaker’s Corner for him on Sunday 18th March.
Robinson was due to speak at 3pm in Hyde Park. Despite snowy conditions, several hundred people and a heavy police presence had arrived almost an hour before. Yet it was not only Robinson’s usual supporters making up the crowd.
The “other” side
At the edge of the gathering were a number of Muslim speakers, who had come attempting to challenge Robinson and Sellner’s portrayal of Islam, and were trying to strike up debate. While some of Robinson’s supporters listened or entered heated discussions with them, fights also erupted, and the police had to get between two sides of the crowd.
Insults were thrown. One of the most frequent levelled at the Muslims present was “paedo” or “paedophile.” A man began yelling “You f**k six year olds!”
These insults refer to the child sex abuse scandals in the English towns of Rochdale, Rotherham and most recently in Telford. In all three cases, gangs of men of Pakistani origin groomed and abused young women and girls, selling sex with them, and threatening them and their families with violence if they tried to end their ordeals.
Each case was marred by accusations and suspicions that the police failed to protect victims and investigate properly for fear of being called racist.
To whatever extent that was true, it has been seized upon by critics of a “politically correct” culture, who argue that this is what happens when reluctance to cause offense gets in the way of a criminal investigation.
The police at Robinson’s event also found themselves targets for insult. A man and a woman mocked the police officers, implying that the police thought sex abuse was “ok” as long as it was done by Muslims.
Interestingly, most of the attendees that Al Bawaba spoke to were not hugely familiar with Sellner or his Generation Identity movement, and said they were mostly here to support Robinson and the principles of free speech.
I will hate what I want
(Eleanor Beevor/Al Bawaba)
If there was one thing that united the surprisingly varied crowd, it was a sense of distrust in the political class. One man said that he feared that Robinson was going to be arrested on arrival, and that he was here because he was expecting to witness a “historical turning point” for suppression of speech in this country.
Another man, also there to support free speech, said that he did not agree with Robinson’s politics, but he felt that it was dangerous when politicians told people what to think. He thought that Robinson was being turned into a “pantomime character” by the state so that it would eventually be able to suppress his message.
Eventually Robinson arrived, greeted by supporters running towards him and chanting songs. He made a short announcement that he was here to defend Martin Sellner’s right to free speech, and then began to read the prepared talk:
“You are being replaced by massive Muslim immigration… A big replacement is going on. And let me tell you: your politicians have no plan, no vision and no idea how to deal with the problems that come along… We are being replaced, conquered by radical Islam, AND WE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO TALK ABOUT IT!... Speech that has social costs and consequences is no longer free. It has a price. And the Government and Antifa are working every day to raise that price. In front of our very eyes this country is becoming a tyranny, shutting all debates about immigration down, until demography solves this issue by replacement.”
Hate or freedom of speech… or both?
Sellner’s speech did not clarify why exactly a Conservative British government would be engaging in conspiratorial activities with far-left Antifa activists to “replace” the British population. However, there was no doubt that the anti-Islam message was resonating with the majority of the attendees, and indeed many of those who came were already involved in anti-Islam activism of their own.
One conspiracy theorist stood on the sidelines, talking to listeners about the “Jewish owned media” telling “lies about the number of six million” (referring to the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust).
Referring to Muslims, he said “the problem is that those people have 1400 years of inbreeding” because of marriage between cousins is permitted.
Another supporter was a member of For Britain, a far-right party set up by Anne Marie Waters, who ran for leadership of the anti-immigration U.K. Independence Party, but was often labelled “too extreme” for it.
When this supporter was asked what he thought of Waters’ critics, who refer to her as racist, and say that she blames all Muslims for the actions of some, he insisted that he was not racist, and that those critics had not properly listened to Waters’ speeches.
While Waters has occasionally issued qualifiers saying that she does not blame all Muslims, in her own YouTube videos she talks of “fighting Islam” as her principal goal, and suggests that the “Muslim community” cannot be worked with to counter extremism, amongst many other blanket statements.
It is in this mess of unfocused insults that Britain has produced a cultural divide, across which the same words seem to have different meanings. One woman at the rally, echoing several people that Al Bawaba spoke to, insisted that Robinson and Sellner were “telling the truth about Islam.” They were not racist, she said, and racism as a word was so overused by people wanting to shut down criticism of Islam that it had lost all meaning.
The suggestion that the liberal left overuses accusations of racism in place of nuanced debate has been made by leftists as well as those on the right. One may disagree that Robinson and Sellner are not racist or prejudiced, and indeed be alarmed at the thought of what might constitute racism if such activism does not. However, what is clear from these events is that attempts to repress discussion have had the opposite effect.
Extreme elements of the right are mobilized when the govt attempts to repress their prominent supporters. They are able to gather larger audiences by latching onto popular discontent with the political class.
After reading Sellner’s speech, Robinson bellowed that had Sellner not been stopped, perhaps one hundred people would have listened to him. Instead, many hundreds were present, and even more would hear it as it was broadcast across the world. On that point, it is hard to disagree.
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