It is generally accepted that imperialism is a bad thing, that to subjugate a nation to a foreign power is immoral. But in the heyday of Empire it was not seen like that. The rule of one nation by another nation was presented as part of a civilising mission, bringing industry, culture and enlightenment to "backward" peoples. Anti-racists today might see imperialism as the preserve of the jingoistic right, but they would be wrong, for historically it was strongly supported by many liberals and people in the labour and trade union movement. In order to rape and pillage the world brute force was accompanied by an ideology that made it all seem acceptable back home in the mother country. And that was the role that racism played. Africans were portrayed as a people without civilisation or culture, Asians as weak and backward. Racism was the ideological backbone of imperialism: after all if these people are not quite the same as - not as good as - "white Europeans" then it follows that they do not deserve the same treatment. Without racism imperialism would never have flourished.
What was true yesterday is still true today. The current war-drive and the general surge in racism in Britain are inextricably connected. Just as the old imperialism needed racism, so it is the case with the new imperialism of today. Racism back home helps to mask the reality of what is really going on abroad. That is why the militarily imposed New World Order, in the form of the constant interference by the US in the affairs of other countries, is in truth little more than old world imperialism. The war against terrorism and potential war in Iraq has everything to do with anti-fascists for one simple reason. The racism that has been whipped up to oil the US and British war machine is the same racism that has given the BNP four councillors in the last year. The BNP is doing well not solely because it has pursued new strategies, though that is part of the story. While there are some notable local exceptions, the BNP is not a well-organised national machine. The main reason that it is having some success is that the tabloid press has whipped up so much racism on the twin issues of Islamophobia and asylum seekers that the BNP - now seen as the brand name of organised racism - can clean up at election time. In places where the BNP is well organised it has obtained councillors but, more disturbingly, in places where it has done little or no work, it has often done well too. This gives credence to the view that many people are voting BNP because they find its racism compatible with their own and not because they have seen the organisation active at "community" level.
As anti-fascists we have to be clear that while we need to continue to confront and challenge the BNP, there is a powerful ideological challenge for us to win as well. That is the need to defeat the belief in the racist drivel that is being churned out by some of our daily newspapers. The biggest single contributor to the rise in racism today, and consequently the support for the BNP, is sections of the tabloid press. Day in, day out, we are informed of "evil men" in mosques and "scrounging" asylum seekers. Day after day the drip, drip, of racist ideas enters our collective consciousness. While overt racism and discrimination is frowned upon and institutional racism condemned, racism as an ideology has enjoyed a mini-renaissance. With the assistance of the media, racism in Britain has achieved the ultimate goal of all ideologies: it has become "common-sense". People often consider themselves to be opposed to racism while actually being racist. It is a widely held "common-sense" view, courtesy of the gutter-press, that "I am not racist but ... something must be done about asylum seekers and Muslims". So, in the build up to the elections this May and beyond, our task is as much an anti-racist one as an anti-fascist one. The BNP prints all manner of lies to back up people's already widely held racist beliefs. It is as important for us to refute these lies at a local level as it is to unmask the BNP for its nazism and criminality.
Opposition to Islam has come to the fore as the major ideological gel for racism in Britain. Islamophobia has been a marvellous panacea for reactionaries in the US and Britain alike. For a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union the right floundered around looking for an enemy. After all if the communist bogeyman was not pointing nuclear weapons at them anymore how could they justify the massive arms spending programme and funding of the intelligence services? The answer was simple: Islamophobia became the new anti-communism and filled the vacuum. Islamic fundamentalism became the new enemy abroad and the enemy within. Having said that it would be wrong to think that Islamic fundamentalism is not a real threat - because it is - and certainly in countries outside Europe which have no history of fascism, it is nearest thing that exists to fascism. The medievalism of the Taleban regime in Afghanistan could well be described as clerical fascism. However, one would think that hunting for terrorists was a serious job that required discreet enquiries and penetration of networks rather than the large fanfare and brouhaha that we have seen over the past year.
In Britain all the sabre rattling in the media against Islamic extremists has become sabre rattling against Muslims, and sabre rattling against Muslims in a British context means sabre rattling against Asian people. After all, the average racist does not know the difference between one Asian religion and another; the only thing they understand is skin colour. So, if you are dark skinned and you are not Afro-Caribbean then you are a Muslim and you are the enemy. That is not to say that Afro-Caribbeans are not the enemy as well, because they are just as Jewish people are: they just aren't the main target right now. For the moment the main target for racists in Britain is undoubtedly Asian people. We saw in the past few years in the northwest what that means in terms of an increase in racial attacks and general anti-Asian hostility. The summer of 2001 saw serious violent disorder organised by racists against Asians in Oldham and elsewhere. Then we had the attacks of 11 September 2001 that gave organised racists in Britain a shot in the arm like they have never received before.
Out of all the misery of 11 September and the possibility of war there is one organisation that has done very well, and that is the BNP. In fact the BNP was campaigning against Asian people on an anti-Muslim ticket long before 11 September. The reason it did this was so that it could circumvent race relations legislation that says that Muslims do not count as an ethnic group in British law. In truth Muslims was simply a code word for Asians, or as BNP activists would put it at street level, "Pakis". For the BNP all this anti-Muslim veneer is in reality good old-fashioned 1970s style "Paki-bashing". We enter 2003 with four BNP councillors and rampant anti-Muslim feeling whipped up by the media frenzy in the name of the "war against terrorism". We will not defeat either the BNP or racism overnight. However, if we can continue and extend the mass distribution of anti-racist and anti-BNP materials that began last year then we will see movement in the right direction, as the successful campaign to keep the BNP off Oldham council proved last year. It is within our power to tip the scales against racism so that anti-racism becomes "common sense"; and when that happens the BNP vote will collapse like a house of cards.
The word Islamophobia is a relatively new term coined to reflect a new wave of anti-Muslim prejudice that has grown over recent years. Since September 11th, a backlash has been aimed at all Muslims, moderate and fundamentalist alike. This failure to differentiate between the many diverse followers of Islam and the tendency to tar all with the extremist brush has meant that many innocent people have come under attack for no reason other than the religion that they follow. But unlike other minority groups Muslims are offered no special protection against such harassment. Currently Muslims do not benefit from the Race Relations Act 1976 or the more recent Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000. This is because the Acts define 'racial groups' in a way that excludes Muslims. Many in the Muslim community suffer high levels of crime, low incomes, high unemployment, poor housing, and poor health. Until new legislation is brought into play, many of these issues will not be addressed. As things stand, Muslims cannot by definition be the victims of racist attacks because they are not considered to be an ethnic group. Yet racism against Muslims is at an all time high. Gaps in the law have allowed Islamophobia to run rampant. Islamophobia is more than simple disagreement with the main tenets of Muslim theology. Legitimate debate about religion and issues surrounding Islam are not the same thing as unfounded prejudice and hostility.
Though black peoples have lived in Britain since they arrived here with the Roman armies, mass immigration did not take place until after the Second World War. While it could be argued that before the mid-nineteenth century the relationship of Blacks and Whites was generally relatively easy, the racial climate then changed. By 1919 there were riots against Black people and a Black man was lynched in Liverpool. A Liverpool paper had described Blacks as "idle and insolent, many of them living on unemployment doles ... a black menace ...". The paper quoted a police official recommending that all Blacks should be rounded up and shipped home, and that "white women who carry on with negroes" should be arrested. The retired Administrator of Bechuanaland in a letter to The Times (14 June 1919) explained why "an intimate association between a black or coloured man and white women is a thing of horror". Another letter, in the Sunday Chronicle (15 June 1919), spoke of the "negro's inborn and ineradicable savagery, and ... unspeakable bestiality where women are concerned ... There can never be any question of equality between blacks and whites."
The service of "coloured" troops to fight for Britain in either of the two world wars did not change attitudes. These troops returned to their homes to find that the economic situation had deteriorated. The only solution was emigration. Moreover, Britain needed labour. By the late 1950s, postwar immigration, invigorated if not begun by business and government recruitment, was about to reach its height. Rumours of imminent restrictions reached the Caribbean and the Indian sub-continent and people hastened to beat the ban. They arrived to a climate of ubiquitous negative racial stereotyping. (The Black children I taught in London schools in the 1960s were not expected to achieve, but White working-class children weren't either. Just keep them quiet, I was told. I remember as late as the 1970s, while running an in-service course for teachers, showing slides of West Indian housing to demonstrate that Blacks did not live in trees.) The notion of inherent inferiority to Europeans was common. Mixed marriages were regarded with horror. In the summer of 1958 anti-Black rioting erupted in Nottingham. Homes and people were attacked. The Black community, according to Dominican reporter Edward Scobie, felt that "the police were biased and not fair in their dealings with coloured people". In August, the racist flames having been fanned by Mosley's Union Movement and other fascist groups, sporadic attacks on the streets of London escalated into riots. These were worst in the North Kensington area, home to many West Indian settlers. As in Nottingham, individual Blacks were pursued in the streets by mobs screaming "Lynch him", "Lynch him". The riots were blamed by the police and the press alike on "hooligans", and on the Black settlers who were deemed to be a "problem". That the local fascists had been stirring up trouble was ignored.
At about 1am on Sunday 17 May 1959, a young Antiguan carpenter, bespectacled Kelso Cochrane, was walking home from the hospital which had just plastered his broken thumb. Six white youths attacked him, leaving him on the pavement dying of a knife wound. There were some witnesses to the crime; the police were sent lists of names; some youths were held overnight, but there were no charges and no arrests. This was clearly a forerunner to the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Black people were horrified - and organised to take action. The Notting Hill-based Inter-Racial Friendship Co-ordinating Council (IRFCC) held a meeting and decided to send an open letter to the Prime Minster, stating that "coloured citizens of the UK have lost confidence in the ability of the law enforcing agencies to protect them". The meeting demanded that the government close "racial centres" and pass a law making incitement to racial violence illegal. It also decided to seek a meeting with the Home Secretary to discuss the situation and the demands.
A delegation of the Council, led by vice-chair Claudia Jones, received a Home Office audience. It spent one and a half hours with three Home Office officials and demanded speedy action against racist propaganda, a trebling of the police force in the Notting Hill area and new legislation to prevent incitement to race hatred. This was necessary because of "inactivity by the authorities in the face of organised attempts to stir up racial hatred by fascist groups". Failing this, it would form its own defence organisation. The deputation also proposed the appointment of a Select Committee "with both white and coloured members, to go into the whole question of the special problems of districts such as Notting Hill where there are large numbers of coloured residents". According to other reports the deputation also asked for the removal of policemen "with known racial bias", and that the proposed legislation should deem racial discrimination illegal. The senior Home Office official who received the delegates assured them that the "government was satisfied that the police were taking necessary action ... It was unlikely that West Indians would be allowed to form their own defence organisations."
However, R A Butler, the Home Secretary, only promised to "watch the situation" and encourage "effective integration and consider recruiting coloured policemen ... and slum clearance". When pressed in Parliament, Butler condemned the fomentation of racial discrimination, but denied the need for a special enquiry. "Every effort will be made to encourage effective integration", he promised. "The police discharge their duties impartially," Butler assured the Commons. "Any activities being undertaken calculated to lead to a breach of the peace the police have the powers to deal with ... To take action against [racial discrimination] might not be effective. That is why I do not want to step into that without a great deal more consideration." His contacts with the press "indicate that it is willing to take a responsible view of this matter". After meeting with police chiefs Butler announced that he was satisfied with their "handling of the situation in Notting Hill and elsewhere". The "root of racial tension", according to the police chiefs, lay in "restlessness among young people and social malaise".
Butler clearly did not feel that stirring up racial hatred would lead to "a breach of the peace", as he gave permission for the White Defence League to hold a rally in Trafalgar Square. The government also refused a month later to ratify the International Labour Office's Convention on Racial Discrimination. Jones and the IRFCC did what they could. In a massive public funeral for Kelso Cochrane, about 1,000 people attended the church service and "many more accompanied the casket to Kensal Green Cemetery". Telegrams were sent to his mother in Antigua, and to friendly governments and sympathetic contacts in Cairo and Paris soliciting support. The High Commissioner for Ghana, the Mayor of Kensington and, despite their reservation about the IRFCC, the Premier of the West Indies Federation and Commissioner Garnet Gordon were among the mourners. The total cost was £257, a vast sum in those days, which excluded the actual cost of the burial. A fund was started for Kelso's mother. It was all to no avail. A few years later, in 1962, Parliament passed the Immigration Act. The message was clear and resulted in further anti-Black riots in Dudley, Smethwick, Wolverhampton, Accrington and Leeds. "Paki-bashing" and "nigger-hunting" became popular British pastimes. After a number of far-right organisations merged to form the National Front in 1967 and NF candidates stood in local and national elections, anti-Black attacks were further legitimised. Anti-Black attitudes were reinforced by the 1968 Immigration Act. Anti-racist resolutions passed by the TUC and the Labour Party remained words in the air.
Racism is at the very heart of the British National Party. It is racism that separates it from any other political party. And it is racism that attracts many of its members. Of course the BNP denies this. It knows how hateful its views appear, and has tried to make its language less crude. But the song remains the same. BNP publications are still filled with racist articles, lies about immigration and asylum, and distorted figures in an attempt to portray black people as criminals and dole scroungers.Today, the BNP has dropped its policy of compulsory repatriation and replaced it with a voluntary scheme. Make no mistake about it, this move is designed to win over supporters. The party recognise that the vast majority of people found its previous policy abhorrent. But the small print of BNP policy makes clear its true aims. The BNP claims that a BNP led government would consider forcible repatriation if not enough “non-whites” took up its offer.
If the BNP does not publicly support compulsory repatriation, it makes no attempt to hide its backing for an apartheid state in Britain. Current party literature proposes to “protect and preserve the racial and cultural integrity of the British people – and of others too, the party believes in separation”. According to the BNP 2001 general election manifesto, “native Britons”, who they claim can only be white, would be given priority in the job market. “Non-whites” would instantly become second class citizens in Britain. Any black person who commits a crime would also be thrown out of the country, even those who were born here.
Mixed race relationships would be outlawed. Privately, the BNP leaders have continued to air their real political views. “All black people will be repatriated, even if they were born here”, BNP leader Nick Griffin told Wales on Sunday in 1996. “We must preserve the white race, because it has been responsible for all the good things in civilisation”. According to party number two, Tony Lecomber, the preservation of the white race can be done through a racial eugenic programme.
The BNP supported ethnic cleansing in the Kosovan crisis. “The Serbs’ real crime isn’t the harshness with which they have expelled so many of the Albanian Muslims who having become the majority in the Kosovan heart of Serbia by a mixture of immigration, a high birth rate, and low level ethnic cleansing of the native Serbs… No! The real crime in the eyes of the powerful advocates of a multi-racial New World Order is for any people to demand the right to preserve their own identity and freedom”. The BNP says they have no truck with “race hate”. Another outrageous lie. The jokes, caricatures, cartoons and articles depict black people as stupid, criminally minded and ugly. Time and again, BNP publications talk about the genetic superiority of the white race; several BNP members have put this racism into practice. Former National Organiser Richard Edmonds was convicted for his part in a vicious bottle attack on a mixed race couple in a pub in East London 1993 BNP supporter Stuart Kerr was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for firebombing an Asian shop in Chichester, Sussex BNP leader Nick Griffin was convicted of incitement to racial hatred in April 1998.
The BNP organiser for Waltham Forest, Alan Gould, was convicted of racially abusing people in a pub in 2000. Former BNP member David Copeland was sentenced to six life sentences after planting bombs in London. He wanted to start a race war. On other occasions, the BNP has glorified racist attacks. In 1991, the BNP newspaper gloated after several BNP supporters stabbed an African immigrant at London Bridge station. The victim had his “kidney surgically removed”, the paper boasted. In the same year, the BNP leadership whipped up a racist riot in Bermondsey, London, and led an attack on an anti-racist meeting that was protesting against the BNP headquaters in Welling. Thirteen people needed hospital treatment. A BNP presence has almost always culminated in “race hate”. When Derek Beackon was elected as a BNP councillor in Millwall, racist attacks in the area soared by 300%.
Fascism stands for the murder of millions, the annihilation of entire communities and the destruction of democracy and human rights. The BNP has its roots in the neo-Nazi group the National Front and has links with the white supremacist, violent group Combat 18. The Channel Five documentary Neo-Nazi Hate Rock showed that the BNP receives money from the sales of neo-Nazi hate music and fundraising. Leading BNP member Mark Collett was caught on Channel 4’s Dispatches documentary in 2002 praising Hitler and claiming that Nazi Germany would have been a better place to live than some parts of Britain. Nick Griffin is a lifelong Nazi with a criminal conviction for incitement to racial hatred. He is leader of a fascist organisation that openly admits it is "wholly opposed to any form of racial integration" and wants to create an "overwhelmingly white" Britain.
His spurious accusations of "racism" against black and Asian people should be treated as the fabrications they so clearly are. The BNP clearly thinks it can get away with intimidating people in ethnic minorities by throwing false accusations of "racism" and "abuse" at people who stand up to them. The police and courts should see these allegations for what they are – lies from Nazis – and treat them with the contempt they deserve.
A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.