The Convention 13: When Islamophobia goes unchallenged

I purposely avoided focussing upon the English Defence League’s antics in the last entry on article 9. That was because ‘The Convention’ series aims to remain relevant for longer than the EDL’s limited lifespan. Let’s face it, like all such paranoid groups they will break up as infighting and internal mistrust takes over. This is already happening and the group probably won’t last for too much longer.

But then I came across this report on today’s EDL rally in Dagenham:

It seems that a limited police presence has given these anti Muslim ‘demonstrators’ a chance, once again to show their true nature. So far 3 Asian youths have been hospitalised and ‘HopeNotHate’ photographers have also been assaulted. This event is continuing as I type. Who knows what the final toll of violence will be by the end of the day.

It may be that the lack of police presence is due to the Islamophobic EDL’s recent decision to exclude police from the planning stage of their demonstrations. This is unlawful in itself and based upon today’s events it’s easy to see why. Peaceful demonstration is one thing. Violent discrimination is quite another!

Update from HopeNotHate blog:

“I’ve just spoken to one of our people on the ground. He confirms that three Asian teenagers were attacked, one seriously enough to require urgent hospital treatment. We do not know how badly this lad was attacked but there was a lot of blood.”

Here’s a photo of the assault itself.

Racist EDL mob violence in Dagenham

Racist EDL mob violence in Dagenham


Members of the EDL, of course, deny that any violence occurred at their ‘peaceful demonstration’.
And here’s an interview given by one of these young Muslim men (from his local hospital’s A&E department) following the EDL mob’s attack: http://bit.ly/mvLlMQ

HopeNotHate blog continues….

“We’ve also received more information about the police operation. It seems that Dagenham police were prepared and had 12 vans waiting for the EDL march as it was to enter their borough. The problem, it seems, was in Redbridge, where the march began. The only police presence was a community support officer on a bicycle and he did not intervene when the three lads were attacked. Apparently the police in Redbridge had no intention of diverting any resources to the EDL demonstration.”

About ‘The Convention’

This series of posts first appeared on Stuart’s blog in June 2011. It is not intended to be a comprehensive or even particularly authoritative reference guide to the ECHR. Rather it is a brief introduction to a much larger and infinitely more fascinating subject. You can download the entire series in PDF format here: http://stuartsorensen.wordpress.com/amj-freebies-downloads-and-services/

The Convention 12: The right to freedom of conscience and religious expression

My first thought on planning this blog post was to focus upon the abuses of the English Defence League (EDL) and the way that its members and affiliates persecute Muslims in modern UK. However to focus only upon this particular form of bigotry would be to miss the much wider point of article 9. So instead I’m going to explore ‘freedom’ of conscience and religious belief from a larger perspective.

Many religions

According to article 9 of the ECHR:

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion;
    this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

  2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

 

This means that it’s OK for people to follow their own conscience or religion so long as that does not prevent others from exercising their rights. In other words religion is OK so long as it doesn’t abuse other people. Here’s an example:

On October 25th 2007, 22 year old EG gave birth to twins at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital. A few hours later she was dead because she refused to accept a blood transfusion. EG was a devout Jehovah’s Witness. She suffered a sudden haemorrhage and bled to death following a natural delivery. EG had already signed a form before the birth refusing blood in such an event.

This is an interesting case and (since it’s already in the public domain) one I often use in training around rights and mental capacity. Participants are asked to consider a number of principles relating to EG’s capacity to decide, the rights of others to overrule her decision and the limits of an individual’s right to follow their religious beliefs in the face of life threatening injury or illness. It always makes for an interesting discussion.                       

Most people begin by arguing that EG’s husband could and should have consented to treatment (blood transfusion) on his wife’s behalf. Others argue that the medical team should have made the decision to treat her whatever her husband said.

However the fact is that EG was a consenting adult who had made her wish to refuse treatment abundantly clear. She understood the consequences (Jehovah’s witnesses do tend to understand the implications of refusing blood). She had made her decision.

To put it another way, EG had decided that the chance of eternity with her God was better than another few decades here on earth followed by the intolerably cruel torture of eternal isolation from that God.

Given that those were her beliefs it’s difficult to say that another few decades in this life would be worth the cost in the next.

So we see then that people have a perfect right to follow their religious beliefs wherever they will take them – even to their death if that is what their faith demands. However they do not have the right to inflict those beliefs upon others.

One excellent example of this involves the way that the law treats Jehovah’s Witness children (or more accurately the children of Jehovah’s Witness parents) when they turn up in hospital. Whilst an adult can refuse ‘life sustaining treatment’ for themselves on purely religious grounds they cannot do so for a minor. The law assumes that young children are too young to have chosen to follow a religion because they are unable to understand it in any meaningful way. So they are not bound by it. There are other considerations around consent and ‘Gillick’ or ‘Frasier’ competence as children grow older but the issue is always around the child’s own ability to decide – not the religion of other people, even their parents.

Typically in cases where the parent refuses consent on religious grounds the child is made a ward of court and treated in their best interests, regardless of the beliefs of their biological parents. This gives us a dramatic illustration of the basic principle that a consenting adult can follow their religion even to their death if they choose but they cannot inflict their views upon others.

As an aside, although I do not intend to focus very much upon the anti-Islamic ‘English Defence League’ (EDL) during this series, it is this article that will prevent the Sharia law that they fear so much from ever becoming law in Europe. It is a religious system and cannot be imposed upon anyone who does not agree to be bound by it. Such is the beauty of the European Convention’s article 9.

There are a number of Sharia ‘courts’ in UK but they do not have legal authority in the same way that other courts do. Instead they are centres of arbitration and rely upon all parties agreeing to their ‘judgements’. This is a far cry from the imposition of Islamic law across the board that some people pretend.

There are some concerns that Shariah ‘law’ discriminates against women and that Shariah based arbitration may well lead to unfair decisions. However that is no different from the way that many Christian churches operate in UK.

I remember many years ago when I was a fundamentalist Christian myself being encouraged to follow the church’s own arbitration system as laid down by the Apostle Paul (Corinthians Chapter 6). But I also know that when it became clear how flawed that system of arbitration was there was nothing to prevent me from contacting a solicitor and solving my problem that way. In fact that is precisely what I did back in 1993.

Nasty Nick Griffin

The same rules apply to matters of conscience. Morality is not always based upon religion and so article 9 protects people who have firmly held beliefs wherever they come from. But again the same rules apply – only in so far as those beliefs don’t interfere with the rights of others.

It’s OK for Nick Griffin and others to believe in some mythical Arian ideal but it’s not OK for them to remove the right of others to join any political party they choose to because of it.

The British National Party (BNP) led by Nick Griffin was forced to change its policy in October 2009. The court ruled that the BNP policy that only white people could join this political party was judged to be discrimination.

We can see then that whatever we believe article 9 both protects our right to act according to our consciences but also protects us from the interference of others who want to impose their beliefs upon us. This is why, for example, Christian B&B owners are not able to discriminate against people using their services – it breaches the potential guests’ equality rights under article 14.

This is why the nursing professional governing body, the Nursing & Midwifery Council forbids nurses from inflicting their own religious opinions upon vulnerable patients. It’s why Gary MacFarlane was sacked by Relate and why the courts did not uphold his ‘right’ to discriminate against gay people.

There is no right to discriminate against others because of your own religious belief. You have the freedom to follow your conscience but so have others.

About ‘The Convention’

This series of posts first appeared on Stuart’s blog in June 2011.  It is not intended to be a comprehensive or even particularly authoritative reference guide to the ECHR. Rather it is a brief introduction to a much larger and infinitely more fascinating subject. You can download the entire series in PDF format here: http://stuartsorensen.wordpress.com/amj-freebies-downloads-and-services/

The convention 9: No punishment without law

In an earlier post I mentioned the appalling events that took place at Winterbourne View Hospital, a private establishment owned by Castlebeck.

wpid-Panorama-abuse-allegation-007.jpgThere have been some excellent blogs written about the scandal since it broke on a Panorama programme last week. These have mainly been from the perspective of liberty. For example This ‘Fighting monsters’ blog or this one from Lucy Series at ‘The small places’.

Of course this is important. In fact it’s vital that those of us who work in health and social care understand and respect the right to liberty. However there’s another, equally important principle to consider here. The idea that there can be no punishment without law. Welcome to Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

According to Article 7 people have the right not to be convicted of a crime that was not an offence at the time they committed it. They also have the right not to be given a harsher sentence than the maximum allowed at the time of the offence. This seems eminently fair and reasonable and few people object to it – at least in theory. It’s when we start to look at the wider implications that things become interesting – especially in health and social care.

wpid-winterbourne_2376241b.jpgThe Panorama footage from Winterbourne View leaves no room for doubt that staff were taking it upon themselves to ‘teach residents a lesson’ whenever their behaviour didn’t meet expectations. At least it leaves no doubt in my mind but of course, I’m not the court. This apparent abuse is all the more poignant when we learn that the expected behaviours involved passive acceptance of mistreatment and that the punishments meted out to them were torture by any definition.

But torture is not the focus of today’s blog. Instead I want to concentrate upon the widespread practice of people taking the law into their own hands. That’s what the staff at Winterbourne view did (allegedly) when they decided who to punish and who to let be. They were setting themselves up as judge and jury. But they were not judges or jurors and they most certainly were not entitled to act as executioners. Remember the maxim:

No punishment without law.

There is no law that allows care workers to punish anyone. That’s not what our work is about. If a criminal offence has been committed then we have a legal system designed to deal with it. A legal system that abides by the laws of the land and that understands proportionate punishment – not using a hammer to crack a nut.

Winterbourne View staff wrestling someone to the ground because they ‘looked at them’ is neither lawful nor proportionate. It’s a punishment meted out by someone with no right to decide upon guilt and penalty in the first place. That really is punishment without law. Throwing cold water over residents, pinning them to the floor with chairs or standing on their hands is equally indefensible.
The simple truth is that only the courts can condemn and only the courts can punish. Private citizens are not authorised to take the law into their own hands, especially if they are in charge of vulnerable people.

But this principle goes much further than Winterbourne View. One of the most common misunderstandings I come across when delivering training on challenging behaviour work is the belief that behavioural regimes involve punishment. They do not. Punishment is both illegal and unethical. It’s abuse.

edl rioters in BradfordA more obvious example of Article 7 at work is in the field of ‘hate politics’. From animal rights campaigners to religious fundamentalists there are always individuals ready to hurt those with whom they disagree. They see a difference of opinion, of race or of religion as an offence worthy of punishment and sometimes they take the law into their own hands.

Currently the UK group most often prosecuted for condemning and punishing others is the English Defence League whose members, ironically enough, regularly ‘defend’ England by attacking and harassing English citizens.

It is ironic that the ECHR not only prevents groups like the EDL from getting their way but also ensures that the Islamic ‘Sharia’ Law they fear so much could never hold sway in Europe. If EDL members would only stop and think for a moment they’d see that the very convention they oppose so vehemently protects them from the thing they fear the most.

It really is true that the more people know about the ECHR the more they appreciate it and the positive impact it has for us all.

About ‘The Convention’

This series of posts first appeared on Stuart’s blog in June 2011. It is not intended to be a comprehensive or even particularly authoritative reference guide to the ECHR. Rather it is a brief introduction to a much larger and infinitely more fascinating subject. You can download the entire series in PDF format here: http://stuartsorensen.wordpress.com/amj-freebies-downloads-and-services/

With Apologies to Shakespeare’s ghost

A modern version of the ‘Hollow crown’ speech (Rich II Act 2 Sc 3) starring Tommy Robinson. Robinson’s shock resignation from the English defence League has been likened to the Pope leaving the Vatican after noticing it contained Catholics or Hitler denouncing National Socialism because some Nazis went a bit too far. It’s hard to believe that the presence of neoNazis among the EDL ‘footsoldiers’ surprised Tommy though. They’ve been a national joke for years as Russell Howard (among others) demonstrated beautifully:

Not that the rank and file of the EDL really need any help to make fools of themselves.

It’s worth remembering that the nonsensical rhetoric that these gullible people spout comes straight from the official EDL propaganda. It’s easy to laugh at the ignorance (and intoxication) of ordinary EDL members but lets not forget that this is the result of a strategy of misinformation deliberately aimed at the uneducated and disempowered. And the whole campaign since 2009 has been orchestrated by Tommy Robinson himself. It has been a campaign of hatred and bigotry that actively encouraged and glorified behaviour like this:

So like many people I find this Damascene epiphany difficult to believe. The idea that racism has come as a surprise to Tommy is quite impossible to believe. He knows the EDL is (and has always been) a racist, neoNazi organisation because he designed it that way. Robinson (whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) seems to be rewriting his own history despite the vast archive of evidence that always follows high profile public agitators.

Tommy Robinson wants us to believe he isn’t racist yet he courted racists for four years;
He wants us to believe he hates racists yet his official EDL social media pages have spouted blatant racism for years;
He wants us to believe he supports democracy yet as recently as two days ago he was busy attempting to intimidate those who disagreed with his anti Muslim sentiments;
He wants us to believe that he is leaving the EDL because he no longer supports street movements and yet he has been unvolved in organising such events right up until yesterday’s announcement;
He wants us to believe that this is about conscience when his stated reasons clearly demonstrate the immature motivation of a megalomaniac ‘spitting the dummy’ because he can’t keep personal control.

This is not a new phenomenon. Shakespeare described it well several hundred years ago. It’s remarkable how few changes are necessary to fit the speech below to Tommy’s own situation.

“No matter which thinktank. Of extremism no man speak.

Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs, make dust our paper and with rainy eyes write sorrow on the bosom of the EDL. Let’s choose journalists and talk of government subsidies.

And yet not so, for what can we betray, save our deposed footsoldiers to the ground? Our lands, our lives and all are Quilliam’s, and nothing can we call our own but publicity and that small model of the barren media which serves to ridicule and exploit our loyal supporters. 

For God’s sake, let us sit before Jeremy Paxman and tell sad stories of the death of racists; how some have been deposed. Some slain in war; Some haunted by the infidels they have deposed; Some poison’d by their Frauleins: some sleeping kill’d; All murder’d.
For within the hollow crown that rounds the mortal temples of an EDL attention whore keeps Death his court. And there the antic sits,scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp. Allowing him a breath, a little scene, to monarchize, be fear’d and kill with looks, Infusing him with self and vain conceit, as if this flesh which walls about our life, were brass impregnable.

And humour’d thus comes at the last and with a little pin bores through his castle wall, and farewell Tommy!
 

Cover your heads and mock not flesh and blood with solemn reverence. Throw away respect, religious hatred, street violence and ceremonious demonstrations, for you have but mistook me all this while.

I live with cocaine like you, feel paranoia, taste grief, need bodyguards. Subjected thus, how can you say to me, I am a bloke worth listening to?”

Islam, far right nationalists and the vicious God of Abraham

It really shouldn’t be necessary to write this post. But unfortunately it is. That’s the problem with fanatical extremists. They think only in black and white terms and so anyone who, for example doesn’t hate Muslims must be a Muslim themselves. As an atheist I thought that a particularly stupid assertion from an EDL supporter recently (see the comments).

So I’ve decided to be clear, once and for all…

Islam

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I am not a Muslim. I am not a believer in any deity. I consider all religions to be both silly and harmful. As the late, great Christopher Hitchins put it, religions belong to the ignorant “infancy of our species”. During those dark days of prehistory even the most learned people had no idea what the natural world was about. This led to an assumption that whatever people didn’t understand must have been the work of a magical supreme being. The notion of Gods was born.

So I think all religions are silly but…. and this is the important bit…. I am adamant that:

1 People have a right to disagree with me;
2 I may be wrong;
3 So long as people don’t try to impose their lifestyle upon me I am more than happy to return the compliment;
4 What consenting adults do amongst themselves is no business of mine.

And that last part really is an issue for me. But not just with Islam – with all religious groups from Islam to Judaeism, from Catholicism to Cargo cults. I believe that to inflict religious indoctrination of any kind on to children is abuse.

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● If an adult Christian wants to live his life in shame and assumptions about his own pathetic ‘unworthiness’ so be it;
● If a grown Muslim woman wants her ‘evil’ clitoris and labia removed (often causing infection and death), fair enough;
● If a mature Jewish man wishes to contract herpes by having a Rabbi remove his foreskin with his teeth that’s fine by me;
● And if a young Jehovah’s Witness mother chooses to bleed to death after giving birth rather than to accept a blood transfusion that’s fair enough too.

I think that all these things would be tragic but in every case it’d be their choice. It would have nothing to do with me.

So my only real beef with Islam is the same one I have with ALL religions. I wish they’d stop inflicting it upon helpless children. Other than that – it’s OK to be different. So long as you leave the rest of us alone.

Sharia courts

Which, of course, brings us to the notion of Sharia law and the vicious God of Abraham….

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I would oppose any attempt to impose Sharia law on myself or upon my society. Indeed, if I truly believed that there was any chance of that barbaric, Mosaic system being imposed I’d be the first to man the barricades. It’s a legal system based upon a moral compass that points straight back to the iron age.

But it’s no worse than the fundamentalist Christian ‘courts’ that also exist, equally informally in this country. In both cases people choose to submit to the ‘judgements’ of religious ‘courts’ but the law of the land still applies. Wife beating is still illegal in UK even though the ‘law of Moses’ says that it’s OK. Women subjected to such abuse can still prosecute their abusers regardless of religion.

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So you see Sharia is no more a threat to Western civilisation than Christianity and Judeaism (barbaric though all 3 undoubtedly are). No religious convention can be used to excuse rape, ethnic cleansing, slavery, murder, child abuse or arbitrary discrimination (whatever Christian ‘law’ says about these ‘duties’). European law is not religious law.

So far as I’m aware the only exception allowing abuse on religious grounds is the genital mutilation of infant boys whose parents are either Jewish or Muslim. I stress ‘whose parents are either Jewish or Muslim’ because let’s face it these babies are far too young to choose any religion (or to understand the mutilation imposed upon them). Along with many other atheists and humanists I’d love to see that made illegal in the same way that the genital mutilation of infant girls has been.

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I would oppose the imposition of Sharia, Levitical or Talmudic law in a heartbeat. They are all based upon the exact same, vicious God of the Israelites who seemed far more interested in ethnic cleansing, sexual slavery and blood sacrifice than anything modern civilisation might recognise as ‘justice’. Not that there’s anything unique about the God of Abraham in that respect – especially concerning women:
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But I don’t oppose individual Muslims any more than I oppose individual Jews, Christians, Hindus or, indeed anybody else. Except, of course for ….

The English Defence League (EDL)

Recently I’ve been criticised on my blog for opposing far right nationalists such as the EDL and BNP much more than other extremist groups such as Muslims Against Crusades (MAC). In truth I object to extremist, terrorist groups of all kinds but the only ones that claim to speak for me are the EDL and BNP. I’m a white, working class British man and as such I consider it a duty to oppose those fascist, racist groups who claim to represent my own culture and heritage.

To quote Edmund Burke (allegedly)…..

“All that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.”

I made this point more fully in a series of three posts which can be found here, here and here.

This doesn’t make me a Muslim (the very idea of me being religious in any way at all is both ridiculous and insulting to me). Nor does it make me a “traitor to my race” as another commenter recently described me. I’m a human being and that’s as sectarian as I’m ever going to be. All people are as valid and worthy of rights and respect as anyone else.

I’m not a fan of street violence from any quarter (be the perpetrators linked to EDL, BNP, Combat 18, MAC, UAF or IED). You’re all as bad as each other in my view.

In summary

My position is simple:

● I loathe sectarianism;
● I loathe ALL religion;
● I loathe child abuse and indoctrination;
● I loathe nationalism;
● I accept the right of all people to disagree with me;
● I would oppose ANY imposition of Mosaic law upon my society (be that Islamic, Christian or Jewish);

I believe that these views are echoed by many (although not all, alas) of my fellow working class Britons (of all colours and backgrounds).

The English Defence League does not speak for us!

Freedom of speech

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Yesterday I signed a petition calling upon the British government to proscribe, to ‘outlaw’ in other words, the English Defence League (EDL). I also advertised the petition on social media and suggested that others do the same. Shortly after I found myself embroiled in a Twitter conversation about freedom of speech as though opposing the EDL and their approach (not just to Islam but to all Muslims) was the same as opposing freedom of expression.

There’s a long and noble tradition of freedom of speech throughout the West dating back centuries:

Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”

John Milton, Areopagitica: A Speech for the Liberty of Unlicens’d Printing (1644)

“Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it.”

Samuel Johnson in James Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)

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But there’s a huge difference between ‘freedom of speech’ and the freedom to do (or incite) violence. Many people criticise Islam but the EDL go further – much further. Just a few minutes worth of internet searching is enough to demonstrate the litany of assaults an intimidation, arson and victimisation that this far right group of Nazis is responsible for. That’s not free speech, it’s violent discrimination against an entire demographic. And that’s illegal.

The EDL is as much a terrorist group as was ‘Muslims Against Crusades’ (MAC), another Luton based hate group that was proscribed by the Home Office years ago. Just like the EDL they were violent, sectarian thugs and their proscription had nothing to do with freedom of speech.

Muslims Against Crusades was outlawed for reasons of national security. The terrorist EDL should be banned too – not because of their opinions (odious though those opinions are) but because of their violence.

BAN THE ENGLISH DEFENCE LEAGUE
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The best EDL

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Go and visit the English Disco Lovers website. This is the best use of the acronym ‘EDL’ I know of. A parody who turn up at rallies to disco dance and have fun without discrimination or violence – just dancin’!

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While you’re at it please link the website to your blog or website. Just stick it in a blog post or something. They’re trying to ‘out SEO’ the racists so when people google ‘EDL’ the first hit they see will be Disco.

Now that has to be a cause worth supporting!

Still think the EDL isn’t racist?

Have a look at this report from EDLreview. http://edlreview.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/edl-is-not-racist.html?m=1

Oh dear – it just gets worse and worse

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It seems that the vicious thugs of the EDL have finally provoked a response from the Muslim community that is tailored to combat them specifically. And it’s easy to understand why given the regular attacks as well as the sort of stuff EDL members post on social media…..

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The EDL have succeeded only in creating a domestic conflict that would never have existed without them. But after years of anti Muslim rhetoric and violence, UK Muslims have finally set up their own response. I suspect that it won’t be pretty.

Ever since the EDL began it’s been clear that the only thing they could ever hope to achieve was division and increasing radicalisation of both Muslims and non Muslims. And now they have their wish.

The Islamic Emergency Defence (IED) looks to be a newly created national vigilante response organisation. Its website promises to deal with those who attack UK Muslims. The website states that these issues will be resolved in “an Islamic manner” although it’s not clear (at least not clear to me) precisely what that means. The emphasis the website places on the obligation of Muslims to defend other Muslims, together with the honour afforded to martyrs makes it all look very scary indeed.

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So well done EDL – you’ve managed to create the conflict you’ve so far had to be content only to imagine. I can’t help but wonder though if you might have bitten off a little more than you can chew in provoking this particular fight. You might want to consider having some of those tacky EDL tattoos lasered off.

And well done IED – you’ve just bought into the warped mindset of neofascists in a move that can only serve to fuel even greater hostilities.

So when you two groups set out to beat and murder each other on the streets of our towns and cities please remember this…

The vast majority of British citizens want nothing to do with either of you.

EDL member jailed (BUT THEY’RE NOT REALLY VIOLENT)

Thanks to Nick Lowles of ‘Hope not hate’ for posting this news report on the conviction of a ‘would-be’ arsonist, EDL and Combined Ex Forces (CXF) member from Wales.

Today a small number of similairly fine, upstanding examples of the ‘master race’ are strutting their intolerant stuff on the streets of Burnley and Sheffield.

No doubt they’ll be driving the Taliban from the town hall steps with their usual chants of…..

“Allah? Allah? Who the fuck is Allah?”

And, significantly given recent events ….

“Burn a poppy and we’ll burn a mosque!”

I’m sure the good people of Burnley and Sheffield feel safer already.

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After all there’s nothing quite like a bunch of law abiding, zeig-heiling, Nazi-saluting, racist arsonists to inspire confidence, is there?

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