Why counter-protesting Fascists isn’t “feeding the trolls”

In the last couple of weeks, fascists have been meeting and demonstrating across the UK, using a senseless tragedy to fan the flames of racism and Islamophobia and to collect more people into their hateful ranks. This terrifies me.

I will say it. I am scared. I am scared not just for my Muslim friends and acquaintances currently living under the very real threat of senseless violence against their homes, work places and mosques and the very real possibility of being attacked in the street. I’m scared not just for my friends who aren’t white, who face much the same threats as my Muslim friends. I’m scared for me and for everyone who lives in the UK, scared of a potential future of a fascist UK. I don’t want that future to ever become reality, not in my lifetime and not even in my great great grandchildren’s lifetimes. Fascism has to be stopped, here and now, while it is still small.

Yet people have been trying to argue that the best response to fascist and far right groups like the EDL is to ignore them. To pretend they aren’t there. Someone I know said last night about an EDL rally planned for the city in which I live, “Don’t feed the trolls, they only want attention”.

THIS IS LIKELY THE WORST POSSIBLE RESPONSE TO THE GROWTH OF FASCISM. Possibly even a worse response than trying to “rationally debate” with fascists. I’m all for refusing fascists a platform, but when they are mobilising we should not look away and pretend they aren’t there.

Why?

Firstly, because it’s not true that they “only want attention”. What fascists want is a fascist state, which by its very nature is a place where many people could not safely live – people who can’t live up to some kind of nationalist ideal. In the past, this has meant anyone who isn’t sufficiently white, able-bodied, Christian, heterosexual and normatively gendered and I fear that if groups like the EDL, the BNP, the British Freedom Party and UKIP gain more support in the UK then it is these people again who will find themselves faced with living in a country that doesn’t want them, that may try to expel, punish or kill them for being who they are or will encourage or ignore violence against them. This has happened before and it’s not a great stretch of the imagination to see it happening again. It’s not attention the fascists are after, they have goals and those goals should be vehemently opposed by anyone who believes in freedom and human worth.

The second reason that fascists should be meet with resistance from antifascists is that they commonly believe they are (and in the UK at least will often present themselves as) representatives of the “silent majority”. That is, they believe that most people secretly agree with them but are too afraid of the consequences to say so. This is not true. When counter-protests draw more people than the fascists can, it shows them that their views are not widespread and certainly not shared by everyone. Ignoring their protests allows them to continue to assume that everyone is quietly agreeing with them.

Relatedly, opposing fascist actions shows those involved who are not wholly committed to fascism that there are other views and other ways to think about and solve the problems they turned towards fascism to solve. I accept that some people end up involved in fascist, neofascist and far right groups in response to very real and important problems – I can’t accept the proposed solutions they found (which usually involve people like me assimilating away our differences or facing persecution, punishment, expulsion or death for failing to do so). Showing those people that there are other ways to solve their problems (like, say, pushing for better pay and working conditions and affordable housing rather than complaining that the Muslim family down the road get a council house and benefits to look after their disabled daughter) might help them come to see that their energy would be better expended elsewhere.

Perhaps the most important reason why fascism has to be publically, openly opposed to to show those people who would suffer under a fascist state that we are not alone. We need to see that there are people around us who will speak out, who will not allow fascist far right groups to decide for everyone else who is and isn’t sufficiently “British” to live here, who will not look away and pretend it’s not happening when our homes and lives and cultures are under threat. We are scared and it’s all too easy and understandable to see potential fascists in every unfamiliar face, to worry that quiet racism, islamophobia, anti-semitism, homophobia, disablism and transphobia hides behind the smiles of our friends and acquaintances. The lie of the “silent majority” is a disguised threat, inviting us to believe that the people around us could turn on us at any moment if we are not “British” enough, not apologetic enough for daring to be here and still be culturally different from the mainstream. Any public demonstration against fascists is a public demonstration of solidarity with us, a public declaration of the belief that people who are very different from each other can live together in peace. By countering fascist demos, we can send a message of hope to the people who live or work nearby and the people who hear that the demo was countered by an anti-fascist one and that message is “We want you here, we want people like you”.

SO:
Do whatever you have to do to keep safe when fascists are nearby – even if that means staying home. But do whatever you can do to show both the fascists and those they threaten that fascism is not wanted, needed or accepted here. Show solidarity with those who are threatened and make clear that you want to live in a place where people are different from each other and still get along peacefully, not somewhere where a fragile peace is kept by forcing everyone to try to be the same.

Don’t ignore the fascists, don’t pretend they aren’t there. Work against their ideals and for a world where no one is punished for being different.

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