Thursday, January 07, 2010

Provocative processions

Oliver kamm on Wootton Bassett and the battle of Cable Street:

"Padraig Reidy of Index on Censorship, an invaluable free-speech pressure group, comments on the proposed march by an Islamist buffoon, Anjem Choudary, and his supporters in Wootton Bassett. He concludes:

"Support for free expression includes support for the right to expression of “particularly offensive” sentiments (though not support for the sentiments themselves). It would follow then, that Choudary and his friends should be allowed to march through Wooton Bassett without hindrance. But does this mean the residents of Cable Street were wrong?"

I entirely agree with Padraig about the demonstration. Wootton Bassett is not hallowed ground, and the right to assembly extends to those who hold obnoxious views, in the same way that the right to free speech extends to racists and Holocaust deniers. But I'll have a go at answering his question.

Yes, those who tried to stop the British Union of Fascists from marching in the East End in October 1936 were wrong. The BUF had a democratic right to march in peacetime, and the attempt to stop them did them a power of good. Mosley was looking for a way to call it off anyway, so that he could get to Berlin and secretly marry Diana Mitford Guinness in Goebbels's drawing room (which he managed to do two days later). Support for Mosley in the East End increased after the Battle of Cable Street, as did antisemitic violence. Thugs attacked Jews and their properties, in the so-called Pogrom of Mile End, a week later.

In the end, despite an appalling failure among leaders of the main parties in the 1930s (Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain, Herbert Samuel and the ineffably foolish George Lansbury) to recognise the threat from the dictators, it was democratic politics that defeated Mosley and secured economic recovery, not opposition on the streets. When he was interned in 1940, Mosley was a permanently discredited figure."

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