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Tommy Robinson with British soldiers

Photo: Tommy Robinson

As the far right continues to mobilise, it's crucial the left pushes them back, writes David McAllister

Many of you will have seen or heard about the video of fascist EDL founder Tommy Robinson meeting young British soldiers at a service station, apparently by chance, who chanted his name and posed with him for a selfie. This has prompted an investigation by the army which has already resulted in the discharge of one soldier.

The incident follows a recent surge this year in the mobilising capacity of the far right. 15,000 demonstrated in support of Tommy Robinson in London during the summer.  Some localities have seen far right mobilisations attempting to capitalise on issues of child grooming and sexual assault in attempts to build a violent, Islamophobic movement.  The fallout from this latest development shows the fascists once again looking to build.

Tommy Robinson has posted a video where he boasts that 15,000 people signed a petition within one hour to oppose the investigations against soldiers. Whether or not this is true, the far right in Britain are clearly making as much noise as they can about this, once again appropriating the issues of ‘free speech’ – combined with the usual rhetoric about patriotism and support for ‘our lads’ – to serve a racist agenda. Notorious reactionary windbag Katie Hopkins has also come out publicly in support of the soldiers.

Predictably, fascists are taking special aim at the Muslim Council of Britain and the official Islamic advisor to the armed forces. Tommy Robinson devotes a fair chunk of his video to an Islamophobic rant, asking ‘is Islam completely at odds with the ethos and values of our armed forces?’ before laughably claiming he is speaking in defence of his ‘liberal views’.

People who have been campaigning against the racist hatred of Tommy Robinson and his violent supporters will find nothing surprising about any of this.  The far right will seek to capitalise on any issue if they see an opportunity to stir up hatred and division, sometimes attempting to sound progressive.  They recently mobilised worrying numbers in Sunderland around the issues of rape and sexual assault, claiming to be standing up for women and girls. This pretence of course went straight out the window when they attempted to physically attack an anti-racist demonstration.

This occurs against a wider political backdrop where far right parties are on the rise throughout Europe, and establishment racism - such as Boris Johnson’s comments about Muslim women - remains ever-present as the catastrophic ‘War on Terror’ grinds on.

This may also shed some light on the relationship between the armed forces and racism. 

The army claims that “far-right ideology is completely at odds with the values and ethos of the armed forces” and earlier this year made an attempt to publicise itself as diverse and progressive. But, as well as still being overwhelmingly white and male, this rhetoric is only believable if you ignore the role of the army as the front line of British imperialism, waging wars abroad in tandem with the cultivating of racism at home. Today, Islamophobia still plays a key role as ideological cover for continued military intervention in majority Muslim countries, constructing an image of Muslims as somehow problematic and alien to British life. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if these ideas filter down to sections of the army rank and file who are expected to fight these wars.

The leaked membership list of the BNP in 2009 revealed a high proportion of armed services personnel, around the same time that the BNP was attempting to associate itself with the legacy of the Battle of Britain. Last year, four serving members were investigated for their support for National Action, the Nazi terror group which celebrated the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox.

The left has something crucial to say about all of this. I too have long been angry about how the British armed forces has treated young recruits. Not their investigations of soldiers for posing in pictures, but by sending thousands of them to die in the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, killing millions in these countries in the process. I am also angry about the climate of Islamophobia this has fostered, which has granted Tommy Robinson, the EDL and DFLA no shortage of opportunities to build from the culture of suspicion against Muslims.

The struggles against war and racism therefore go hand-in-hand. Stand Up To Racism is organising a national unity demonstration against racism and fascism in London on Saturday 17 November.  In a year which has seen the far right mobilise, while the sabre-rattling continues in the direction of the Middle East, this is a crucial opportunity for the left to seize the initiative and push back the ugly forces of reaction, from both Theresa May’s shambolic government and from the far right.

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