Column: Liberty for all, even those who threaten us

EDL March held in Rotherham, Saturday, February 25, 2017. Picture credit Charlotte Graham / Guzelian
EDL March held in Rotherham, Saturday, February 25, 2017. Picture credit Charlotte Graham / Guzelian
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On Saturday, along with colleagues from Doncaster, I attended an anti-fascist demonstration in Rotherham to combat the vile rhetoric of the English Defence League so they are not allowed to divide us along ethnic and faith lines. As I stood in Rotherham, I could not help but think how this neighbour of Doncaster, with such rich diversity, had allowed itself to be infiltrated by 15 nationally organised hate marches.

Trying to understand why this is happening is incredibly difficult, though the child sexual exploitation scandal, media sensationalism, poverty and the impotence of public sector institutions has not helped. Couple this with the fact that the DNA of our communities has so fundamentally changed and the strategies imposed from national and local government are having little or no impact is really disappointing. Add to this the failure of public institutions to adapt, developing cultural competence when designing, commissioning or delivering services, has simply left many areas with a void that is now being taken advantage by the far-right. The fact is, when Rotherham Council was taken into special measures by the Government, the intervention disproportionately focused on black and ethnic minority councillors with many of them losing their seats, while many of their white counterparts didn’t. It implied that the white councillors were not to blame for the failure to protect the 1,400 victims yet the BME councillors were. Also, if the community of a Pakistani origin, as was stated in Rotherham, is disproportionately involved in the abuse and grooming of children and young people, why is it then in areas where there is a large demographic of minorities - in excess of 50 per cent such as Brent, Newham, Tower Hamlets, parts of Birmingham, Leicester - we do not witness the same, yet probability dictates we should? All of this plays directly into the hands of the EDL and nationalists such as Nigel Farage and Donald Trump.

With regards to Trump I want him to visit, so that we can quash his vile rhetoric. I still recall Mandela’s quote when he was released from prison - “The greatest challenge to achieve freedom is to free oppressed people from their oppressed minds” – outlining the importance of engagement and dialogue, rather than a ban. I believe we must do the same. If you don’t believe in liberty for those who threaten you, then you have no right to believe in liberty and justice for yourself.