Unite Against Fascism

I write this because my trade union branch has diverted some of the branch funds to Unite Against Fascism. I feel Unite Against Fascism is an affront to its own name, and consequently that I should repair for my inadvertent complicity. I can say that I did speak during the debate of that motion but my trade union branch tends to attract a like-minded attendance at meetings and the outcome was not what it should have been.

Wrongs perpetrated against Britain’s Muslims have dramatically increased since poor Lee Rigby’s murderers invoked Islam as justification for their Woolwich atrocity. Support for their actions was virtually non-existent – although it’s worth pointing out that the disgusted British Muslim majority had to fight for British media attention. So, among other things, Woolwich has revealed a strengthening of social cohesion – for example, since the notorious YouGov poll of British Muslims conducted for the politically-right Telegraph after the London bombings of July 2005, which revealed worryingly high levels of support. However, the Faith Matters’ initiative Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) has recorded a newsworthy increase in attacks on Muslim people and property since Woolwich (it’s worth mentioning that questions about the credibility of Tell MAMA are to be expected for any group trying to raise the issue of racism – some criticisms will have their roots in reflex denial, others will have racist motivations, and others will be valid; that said, Tell MAMA isn’t yet very good at reporting its data). It’s clear that the British nationalist far right has moved swiftly to exploit the Woolwich outrage by blaming Muslims, organising intimidatory marches and – the criminal among them – attacking Muslim people and property.

When street activity is intended to, or has the effect of, intimidating people in minority groups, it’s commendable to take to the streets in solidarity. Unite Against Fascism has so far both convened and dominated street-based counter-protest against the British nationalist far right. However, on balance and for the following reasons, I think that Unite Against Fascism does far more harm than good. I’d also say it’s over-focused on the gratifications of street protest. The University of Northamptonshire and Demos both identify the EDL has a highly Web-enabled movement, but the UAF has neglected to organise against the far right on the Web.

UAF members are known for provoking and getting involved in charged, antagonistic exchanges on the street. As such, UAF contributes to what Roger Eatwell calls ‘cumulative extremism’ and Paul Jackson calls ‘tit for tat radicalisation’,

“‘Tit for tat’ radicalisation emerges when two radicalised perspectives
discover antagonistic features within each other’s ideology and actions,
leading to an escalation of radicalisation within two or more groups.”

The EDL was formed in response to an Al Muhajiroun rally in Luton in 2009. Clearly anti-facist organisations need to interfere with this reciprocal relationship between jihadis and the British nationalist far right – UAF does the opposite and actually feeds the division.

But by far the worst aspect of Unite Against Facism is its betrayal of its own name. UAF welcomes support from jihadis (militant fundamentalist Muslim totalitarians who comprise a tiny proportion of Muslims as a whole), and this has made it impossible for it to oppose fascism, racism and bigotry which is endemic to jihadism, particularly against Jewishness, women, homosexuality and Muslims who disagree with them. Critics of UAF on this count include Sunny Hundal, who wrote,

“…left-wing groups don’t mobilise against these religious extremists as they do against the far-right. Anti-fascists who happily march against the BNP or EDL rarely show that level of commitment against Anjem Choudhary’s group. Why? There even seems to be a reticence to admit that the EDL feeds off Muslim extremists …”

and Peter Tatchell (former – perhaps continued – supporter) who wrote,

“UAF commendably opposes the BNP and EDL but it is silent about Islamist fascists who promote anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism and sectarian attacks on non-extremist Muslims.”

UAF’s Vice Chair Azad Ali is a terrible choice – the opposite of appropriate for an anti-racist organisation. He opposes democracy if it prevents the implementation of sharia law in Britain. He also lost a libel case against the DM for calling him “a hardline Islamic extremist who supports the killing of British and American soldiers in Iraq by fellow Muslims as justified”.

Unsurprisingly, the UAF’s problems with analysing facism aren’t limited to blind-eye-turning. According to those who study them (see the aforementioned Demos and Northampton reports) the EDL is not fascist but populist far right. This is important because unless UAF is committed to an impartial analysis of the changing far right in Britain, we need to recognise that it has no chance of identifying effective opposition to fascism.

As well as undermining the ‘against facism’ part of its name, it also tramples the ‘unite’ bit. In case there’s any doubt by this stage, UAF is not a democratic organisation and has made it very hard for individuals and groups to influence its decision-making unless they are politically aligned. So, it becomes clear that UAF’s programme is not after all anti-fascist. It feels its own political ends are best served by leaving some fascists to go about their business.

Consequently UAF has no answers to social division along ethnic and religious lines. This is intolerable to me and I find the argument that these ills are outweighed by UAF’s contribution to street protest entirely unacceptable. I can only imagine the disorientation experienced by young people who come into UAF’s orbit and find a definition of anti-racism distorted beyond recognition.

I can’t bring myself to turn out under a Unite Against Fascism banner and I will be conscientiously avoiding its events. I’ll continue to support all genuinely anti-racist organisations, including  Hope Not Hate.

Update

Although I’m not capably keeping up with with commentary at the moment, there’s plenty more to say about this, including:

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Vegan on the South West Coast Path

In another post to come I’ll describe this year’s stretch of camping along the South West Coast Path Falmouth to St Ives, which we’re walking in the unofficial direction of Poole to Minehead. This post will be of interest to anybody hoping to sustain a vegan diet on that stretch of the path. For other stretches see my other posts tagged SWCP.

First of all, I should admit that I lost my nerve a bit. Sometimes my plans didn’t come to fruition and I didn’t feel comfortable to request vegan adjustments on the fly. I felt metropolitan and out of step so I either went without (and paid over the odds) or bent my own rules. This bothers me, and in future I hope to be a bit firmer. But there were certainly some high points.

We each carried a spork, penknives, and a non-leaking sandwich box. We tended to drink tap water – I had 1.5l in sigg bottles and Matt also has a hydration pack. Had the weather been warmer, the distances longer, the going more strenuous, or the beach cafes lacking (as between Pendeen and St Ives), we’d each have needed an extra half litre. Matt also carried four Trek bars (Holland and Barrett sell these) in case we needed them for a breakfast.

Falmouth

That evening we walked along the coast path to have a drink at the Chain Locker on the old harbour (West

Pea Souk, Falmouth

First course of the Persian supper club at Pea Souk, Falmouth

on cider) before one of the more memorable meals I’ve had in my life at Pea Souk, a vegetarian cafe which has embarked on an ambitious series of supper clubs on a different national theme. That night’s was Persian. The most astonishing thing was the number of people Nicola Willis managed to fit (not cram, but comfortably fit) into such a small space – 17 diners, to be exact, all eating the same menu (with small vegan adjustments for me), plus a man playing Persian classical music on a bazuki.  The food was absolutely outstanding – particularly the vegan alternative slice of something cheesecakey and crunchy soused in, I think, rose and orange blossom syrup. I have never eaten such a delectable dessert.

From Pea Souk we bought our lunch for next day – a porkless pie for Matt and for me a selection of salads. For those four meals (including beer) the bill was something like £65.

It was late when we left Pea Souk, so on our way back to the campsite we bought next morning’s breakfast from Tesco near the Discovery Centre, which closes at 10. I had one of their strange falafel wraps (mango chutney is original but not entirely successful).

Falmouth – Porthallow

Breakfast was the aforementioned wrap from Tesco, eaten at the campsite.

Lunch was the aforementioned take-out from Pea Souk, eaten at Helston by the ford.

That night we camped at the diving centre in Porthkerris and ate dinner at the Five Pilchards in Porthallow. Unfortunately the chef who had offered a vegan alternative had left (to his colleagues’ satisfaction) and the new chef, who seemed to be attempting to follow his predecessor’s menu, had nothing for either Matt or me, so we ate chips and salad. The owner apologised and said he hoped to accommodate us better next time. So, the lesson is to confirm plans close to the date. We stayed to drink at the Five Pilchards.

Porthallow to Coverack

This was a short day – mainly because of a late decision to camp on the coast at the diving centre rather than Helford River Camping further inland.

Cooked breakfast at Fat Apples Cafe, Porthallow

Cooked breakfast at Fat Apples Cafe, Porthallow

Breakfast – although the diving centre had a cafe, we noticed that there was a new and attractive-looking place directly on the Coast Path, called Fat Apples Cafe. No website that I can find, but a large number of enthusiastic reviews. I was impressed by the young man who kindly adapted a cooked breakfast for me, including (because they only had butter, no marge) very well fried bread – a bit of oil in pan, not saturated. If you’re reading, I’m sorry we didn’t tip – we each thought the other had done it. Fat Apples is a new start after the family business – a packaging company with origins in Leyton – fell foul of the financial crisis. Good luck to them, though I’m sure they won’t need it. They offer ‘wild camping’, which means wifi but no shower.

We ate lunch in Coverack, pea and mint soup at Archie’s Loft.  The woman behind the counter thought it probably was vegan, it was raining and there was nothing else that looked like a safer option. I think it tasted buttery, which most people who aren’t used to it find is an unpleasantly pungent flavour.

View from the dining room at YHA Coverack.

View from the dining room at YHA Coverack.

We were camping at the Youth Hostel in Coverack, and we ate dinner there – the dining room has a beautiful view of the bay. Notably, a batch of milk had gone bad before its use-by date so everybody was on soya milk. I ate a good tagine and Matt had a bean stew, also vegan. And I found out after committing to fruit salad that the blackberry crumble had been vegan. That was around £10 for the two courses. The man on the desk (also cooking) confirmed my prior impressions that for YHA, packed lunch for a vegan entails removing items rather than substituting them, so we didn’t have one.

We then went for a drink at the Paris Hotel in Coverack.

Coverack to Lizard

Breakfast was a cooked one at the Youth Hostel – baked beans, mushrooms, toast, hash browns. The margarine was Flora, which I don’t think was vegan. I can’t remember whether I ate it – there were some days I had margarine which wasn’t vegan and some days I resisted – this often has something to do with whether or not I calculate it would confuse the staff. If I were running these places I’d make it all vegan. Vegan margarine is easy enough to come by.

We bought lunch from Coverack Post Office – I can’t remember the name of the range of Mediterranean-style salads in plastic tubs, but you tend to get them in independent stores all over the country. I had one with kidney beans and one with couscous. They have a slightly strange metallic flavour, but at least they contain more than one major food group.

At the Lizard we had planned vegan dinner at Henry’s Campsite where we were staying, but the Galleon was locked up because the chef had departed – that meant no breakfast or packed lunch either. After a futile walk in the rain down to Lizard’s Youth Hostel (it’s staffed by volunteers and entirely self-catering) we returned to Lizard where, after checking there was no cream in it, I had the thai curry vegetarian option at the Top House, one of Lizard’s two pubs. It was £9 or £10 and we stayed on for the evening chatting to people on the neighbouring tables.

Lizard to Porthleven

At the butchers(!) in Lizard we bought a tray of flapjack for breakfast, two thirds of which we ate in a bus shelter across the road.

There we also bought some lovely soft white rolls, houmous and cherry tomatoes for lunch, which we ate in Mullion Cove during a gap in the rain with a bag of crisps from the cafe.

For dinner at Porthleven we had pizza and salad at Amelie’s (I leave off the cheese and ask for chilli oil instead). Since it was Wednesday, pizzas were two-for-one and the bill was modest. It looked as if there were other options but they were pricey.

We had a pint at The Ship where the harbour meets the sea.

Porthleven to Marazion

At Porthleven we stayed at the Copper Kettle, a welcoming place I can’t thank or praise enough. The new owner is from Porthleven and made every accommodation for me. I apologise for not having thought to let her know that I don’t take soya milk with my cereal or coffee at breakfast – and thanks for getting the sausages.

We bought lunch from the Spar at Porthleven – same range of salads as we got at Coverack.

Dinner was very enjoyable – we got the bus into Penzance (about 3 miles away) with a hankering for Chinese. We decided on Sunny City on Market Jew Street(!). It has large premises which look plush and banquety if you don’t look to closely, but are cheap, stained and more than a little depressing if you do. We were the only people there, and beginning to lose confidence. But the gent who served us was attentive and prompt, everything was clean, and the food was good – not salty or greasy. I had bean curd, vegetables and boiled rice. I recommend this food – I think it’s mostly a take-away place, which would explain the shabby premises. For two, the bill was just £22, including green tea.

Coop rhubarb tart at Dove Meadows campsite, Marazion

Coop rhubarb tart at Dove Meadows campsite, Marazion

We bought next morning’s breakfast from the Co-op – a rhubarb tart for £1.

Marazion to Lamorna Cove

For breakfast we ate the aforementioned Co-op custard tart from Penzance the previous evening.

Coffee and cake at Archie Brown's, Penzance

Coffee and vegan cake at Archie Brown’s, Penzance

At Penzance we were seduced into Archie Brown’s for elevenses – I had a fantastic vegan orange cake. Downstairs in the health food store we bought four tofu hazelnut cutlets – these are shrink-wrapped and (in practice) keep unrefrigerated. To accompany them we bought cherry tomatoes and pitta bread from the Co-op. Those were for future lunches – but that day’s lunch was a specifically vegan cornish pasty from Lavender’s pasty shop, also Market Jew Street. There was a choice of two, and I had the chilli one. We ate these on the harbour wall at Mousehole.

We camped a mile and a half away from Lamorna Cove and since the local pub, the Lamorna Wink, was being refurbished, we whetted our wallets and stepped out without warning to try the patience of the chef at The Cove Hotel, a formal place with a swimming pool overlooking the cove. We had a very enjoyable, clever meal.

Vegetarian and vegan dinner at The Cove Hotel, Lamorna Cove

Fine vegetarian and vegan dining at The Cove Hotel, Lamorna Cove

I had a starter with the two kinds or artichokes, parsley emulsion, marbled beetroot, cucumber slices marinated in cumin, and white onion puree. Matt had vegetarian watercress soup followed by a salad with root vegetables and local cheese, with a cheeseboard for afters. My main course was a pearl barley risotto. They lit a wood fire and two other couples arrived. With beer, a bottle of wine and tip we paid £100. According to the gracious waiting staff, the chef showed no sign of upset and we were welcomed despite our unkempt appearance.

Lamorna Cove to Sennen Cove

Boleigh Farm, where we were camping, is very beautiful and not near any shops, so for breakfast we ate the Trek bars that Matt had been carrying since the beginning. I tend to burn through those quite fast, compared to a cooked breakfast.

At lunchtime we stopped for a coffee at Porthgwarra’s shop. After inquiring about vegan food to no avail, I asked the man if we could eat our lunch at his picnic tables. “Go right ahead”, he said, pleasantly. We had another coffee each and Matt had a pasty. We used the shop’s wifi. We ate the tofu cutlets,  pitta and tomato we’d bought in Penzance.

We diverted to ‘top’ Sennen for the Costcutter, where we bought the next day’s lunch of Warburton sandwich thins, houmous and more tomatoes, and had a drink in the First and Last Inn.

Sennen Cove was about half an hour’s beautiful walk along the coast from our campsite at Trevedra Farm, and we were late that evening so I ended up with chips and salad for dinner at the Old Success Inn – Matt had vegetable lasagne. The bill was around £16 not including beer.

Incidentally, Lands End visitors’ centre is no respite for walkers or seemingly even for ordinary punters, who sit sadly on benches trying to suck some comfort from their over-priced ice creams.

Sennen Cove to Pendeen

Breakfast was a cooked one at the Ocean Blue Cafe at Trevedra Farm campsite.

We were soaked through by the time we packed up our tent so I made the decision to abandon the day’s walk and instead get the 300 bus along the coast to Geevor Tin Mine, a substantial museum among the disused mines which comprise Cornwall’s UNESCO World Heritage site. More about all that in my next post – this one is about food so suffice to say  that for lunch I had a very good, very filling vegan lentil and carrot soup there – and it seemed that local people were arriving just to eat their Sunday lunch at the restaurant, which did indeed have beautiful sea views and a cheerful informal bustle about it.

At Pendeen we camped at the North Inn, which had several modestly-priced vegetarian options for dinner. Matt and I shared a couple of vegan curries.

Pendeen to St Ives

At the covered picnic tables of the North Inn we had the rest of the Penzance pitta with the houmous and tomatoes from Sennen Costcutter for breakfast.

At the Pendeen Costcutter we got crisps and sweets. The weather was warm and fine and we had a lunch of more houmous, the Sennen sandwich thins and tomatoes on a bench at Trewey Cliff – I forget now to whom that bench was commemorated but I knew at the time and was grateful.

Dinner was at Spinacio’s, a vegetarian restaurant overlooking St Ives harbour. I very much enjoyed seeing the tide coming in and betting with Matt how long it would take a certain boat to start to float (always underestimating). Matt had a sambar with coconut rice, I had a borlotti bean cake with a satay sauce and squash puree. My meal was tasty enough but I think a little unbalanced in terms of weight and texture – the addition of a large, sharp chunk of pickled beetroot helped a lot. The bill for two courses and a bottle of wine, and tip was I think around £60.

St Ives to London

Breakfast was at our B&B, the Carlyon Guest House. They offered a vegetarian breakfast, which had attracted us in the first place, but they didn’t have any margarine and the grilled food tasted quite meaty indicating that there weren’t separate areas of the grill for meat and non-meat. Again, this may have been to do with the lack of notice – we had decided to get B&B accommodation because of a mixture of wet weather, Matt’s sleeping mat developing a puncture and figuring it would be better to be near the station so we could leave our bags while we did the sight-seeing. We hadn’t given notice of vegan requirements and so we weren’t accommodated to the same standard.

For lunch we had a pasty each on the harbour wall – I can’t remember where they were from but they weren’t brilliant.

Dinner on the train - Pengennis vegan pasties

Dinner on the London train – Pengenna vegan pasties

For dinner on the train I had a generous and I would even say fulfilling vegan pasty from Pengenna Pasties, a ready-made crispy salad from the Coop and a carton of grapes. Matt had the same, except his salad was from . From the Halzephron Herb Shop we also got a raw chocolate pie to share. I really love those.