Angry White People – Coming Face-to-Face with the British Far Right by Hsiao-Hung Pai (Book Review)

Hsiao-Hung Pai: Angry White People
Coming Face-to-Face with the British Far Right
With a Foreword by Benjamin Zephaniah
Zed Books, London 2016
ISBN 978-1-783606-92-4

Angry White People: Coming Face-to-Face with the British Far Right by Hsiao-Hung Pai (Zed Press, 2016) is not quite the overview of contemporary UK fascism that its subtitle suggests. The familiar far-right brands of the British National Party, National Front, and their various offshoots barely figure. Instead, the main focus is on the phenomenon of the English Defence League, which seemed to have exploded out of nowhere in 2009 and over the next few years mobilised anti-Muslim street protests across England. The group still exists today, though it has lost much of its early momentum and some of its founding activists along the way.
Pai’s avowed aim is to try to understand ‘what personal and social circumstances are leading these men and women’ to join a movement ‘based on prejudices and myths’, bringing to the subject the ‘outsider’ perspective of a 1990s migrant from Taiwan who is not distracted by social niceties from asking direct and awkward questions. This includes displays of chutzpah or just plain cheek such as knocking on the door of a house flying an England flag and asking its inhabitant to explain himself and walking into the pub reputed to be the EDL’s favoured drinking hole and requesting to speak to its leader, ‘Tommy Robinson’ – real name Stephen Lennon. As a result she does secure what seem to be some fairly unguarded and revealing conversations with a number of EDL supporters, including a couple with Robinson himself.

The EDL’s carefully curated image of being a non-racist organisation simply opposed to ‘Islamic extremism’ is belied by racist remarks about Muslims in general, informed by an incoherent and paranoid world view that fears some kind of impending Muslim domination of the UK. Robinson tells her: ‘Wherever Islam is, there is a military operation to implement sharia law. This country will be exactly the same. Five per cent of the population is Muslim. When it becomes 20 per cent, that’s when there will be a war’.

Robinson struggles to explain why he feels English and not British, or to reconcile his politics with his part-Irish background. In addition to complaining about Muslims, he complains about immigration more generally and even about Welsh workers getting building work in his home town, while at the same time acknowledging that ‘Everyone in this town is an immigrant’, his family included. Meanwhile, a rank-and-file activist complains about ‘pakis’ while obsessing about his desires for ‘oriental’ women. So far, so stupid, but if the far right could be defeated by exposing their irrationality and logical inconsistency, they would have been vanquished long ago. [Read more →]

UK Anti-Fascist Roundup

Extreme right wing groups in Britain have so far failed to capitalise on popular revulsion at the killing of a soldier by presumed Islamists in South London earlier in the year. Lee Rigby was hacked to death in Woolwich in May 2013, with his alleged killers then staying around to explain their act to passers by before they were arrested.

The British National Party has been riven by splits, and the anti-Muslim/pro-military English Defence League has been seemingly stagnating. Both clearly hoped that the killing would give them a burst of renewed energy, and indeed a few days later the EDL did manage to turn out at least 1500 people on the streets of Newcastle.

However, the BNP’s proposed march from Woolwich to Lewisham Islamic centre was banned, and went ahead with a small turnout in Whitehall in central London – the area close to Parliament. The EDL were also restricted to Whitehall when they held a protest on May 27th. The EDL’s subsequent attempt to march on East London Mosque in Tower Hamlets on September 7th was also severely restricted, with the police preventing a crowd of between 500 and 700 EDL supporters getting anywhere near their target. [Read more →]