The English Defence League (EDL), an extremist far-right pressure group, has announced that they are planning a march in Cambridge. The anti-Islamic group will gather on the 23rd February, following their controversial march in July 2011.
In response, the Cambridge branch of Unite Against Fascism (CUAF), a national anti-fascist campaigning organisation, has called for a ‘massive’ counter march. PhD student Owen Holland, whose previous political history saw him suspended for one term by the University after interrupting a talk by Universities Minister David Willets, has come out in support of the UAF’s counter-demonstration. “When the English Defence League tried to march in Cambridge in July 2011, they were vastly outnumbered’. He calls for ‘the people of Cambridge’ to ‘come together to show that racist ideas and organisations do not have coherent solutions to resolve the present crisis”.
His pledge of support has been echoed by other political figures in and around Cambridge. Richard Howitt MEP called for “all the decent people of Cambridge to attend this counter demonstration to show their opposition to racism”. Richard Rose, the coordinator of UAF in Cambridge, explained “the racists seek only to spread hatred, scapegoating and division; whatever problems people face in their lives, the EDL will only make them worse”.
Academics and activists have also organized an anti-fascist teach-in on Sunday the 17thof February in King’s College. Dr. Martin Ruehl, a Fellow at Trinity Hall who specializes in fascist ideology, will speak at the event along with other UAF activists. This comes as academic interest in the study of far right ideology grows; the University of Newcastle has recently established a new centre ‘for the study of the far-right’.
The 2011 EDL march in Cambridge provoked much controversy and overt policing, largely due to the group’s radical stance on Islam. Stephen Lennon, a leading member of the EDL, in a recent interview with Jeremy Paxman, explained that the EDL exist to prevent the spread of Islamism across Britain. He said: "there are one-hundred sharia law courts operating in this country...sharia law is incompatible with western democracy." When asked if the EDL would allow a Muslim to join their group Lennon responded, ‘"of course they could".
Yet in discussing the problems of gang culture, drug chains and ‘pimping’, Lennon argued that "it’s an Islamic problem…none of the other communities are spreading it…are we going to pretend that Muslim groups are not out there purposely trying to target our youth and pimping ‘em?". Lennon has now been jailed after entering the United States on a false passport.
Fred Cotterill, a Cambridge undergraduate planning to take part in the march, said that "The EDL march has no place in Cambridge". Fred added, "Patriotism is not something to be ashamed of – I am proud to be British – and it should be reclaimed from the racists as it was during the Olympics".