The English Defence League (EDL) is notorious: a far-right street movement known for its racism and its sometimes violent, messy protests. Born in Luton in 2009. the movement rapidly grew in size, although its size and influence is now waning. What happens to people who want to leave these movements?
During a visit to Luton earlier this year (writing this report on the Brexit vote for Politico), I met Darren Carroll, one of the founding members of the EDL, which was led by his nephew Stephen Lennon (better known as Tommy Robinson). He spoke about realising that he did not want to be part of a racist movement, and the personal challenges of exiting the movement. I wrote up the interview for the New Statesman, and you can read the full piece here.
Amid attempts to coerce him back into the movement, and concerned about damaging his family relationships, Carroll stayed silent for another year and a half, only starting to speak up a few years after he left the EDL. This triggered a new wave of threats. He reeled off a list of incidents: slashed tyres, smashed windows. “Last week, I got one on Facebook [saying] that I’m a ginger Muslim and I’m gonna get shot. That was someone I know privately, which I don’t take as a threat. Their particular problem seems to be that I’m on record saying I’d have a cup of tea in a mosque and sit down and talk to people.”
I am still covering UK news for Deutsche Welle; some recent pieces include this and this the court challenge to Brexit, this on Britain’s approval of “three-parent babies”, and this on British responses to the Trump victory.
This December I wrote a couple of pieces for The Pool, looking at different aspects of integration in Britain. The first dealt with Louise Casey’s government-commissioned report into integration. My piece dealt, particularly, with her disproportionate focus on Muslim communities and her emphasis on patriarchy and the oppression of women.
Casey talks a lot about not shying away from “tough questions” but much of her report covers common ground, reflecting prevalent prejudices and offering little in the way of new solutions. What good would an oath to Britishness do? Surely more effective strategies would be better funding for local services that can seek to access isolated woman with English lessons or simply information about the support that is available to them; for careers training, community groups, English teaching, and women’s refuges. This type of small-scale, local level community work has fallen out of fashion in favour of sweeping statements about extremism and a failure to integrate, but it is where our best hope lies.
You can read the full piece here.
My second piece for The Pool was totally different in tone. It looked back at the Grunwick Strike, a historic moment in 1976 when Indian women factory workers led a strike that was backed across the country. It was a remarkable moment of solidarity with the “strikers in saris”, which feels particularly poignant given the current political climate.
The Grunwick strike failed after 23 months. The factory refused to reinstate sacked workers or recognize their right to a union. But regardless of this ultimate defeat, it was a victory in race relations at a time when the broader political picture was bleak. The strike was significant because it was started by immigrant women bravely standing up to injustice – but even more so because it was not limited to those women or those immigrants. It became a wider movement against injustice and unfair working conditions, where people from different communities stood side by side. For 20,000 people to stand alongside a small group of disenfranchised Indian women was a moment of huge symbolism.
The rest of the piece is here.