On the evening of the 26th January, 2016, I attended the AGM of the Leicester Social Forum. What follows is a summary of some of the stories reccounted by attendees, with my own summary of the night.
Peter Flack (local trade unionist with the National Union of Teachers)
Peter reflected upon the reasons why he first decided he was a socialist in 1962. Raised in Liverpool he was one of three lucky working-class students to obtain a scholarship to study at a public school — a haven of intolerance and arrogance that forbade their students from consorting with their class enemies, the students at the neighbouring state school.
He remembered how at the age of 15 he decided to skip school to travel down to London with dock workers from Liverpool to protest against the Government. The police, however, were intolerant of peaceful protests against injustice, and with batons drawn, horse-bound members of the constabularly prepared to charge down the dockers. In this instance the only thing that prevented Peter and his docker friends from being trampelled was the ingenuity of the dockers, who quickly sprinked bags of marbles upon Parliament Square, thereby allowing them to live to fight another day.
Soon after this incident Peter joined the Labour Party Young Socialists, and was swiftly expelled, along with many others. His crime was that he had consorted with Trotskyists, a big no-no in an ever Orwellian Labour Party. Ironically, as Peter recalls, he didn’t even know what Trotskyism was about.
Nevertheless, Peter and his young comrades reluctantly accepted their explusions and ploughed their own way. On the same day they challenged the local Young Conservatives to a debate, and they accepted. This marked a strange coming together of ideas, where Peter and his friends would continue their debates with the Tories, who, unlike the Labour Party, allowed them to hold their meetings in their offices.
Unidentified Elderly Man
In response to Peter’s talk, an elderly gentlemen bore testimony to instiutionalised inequality. His father had left school at just age 12 to work in the dark bowels of the earth (a coal mine). His payment: 6 pence for every ton of coal that he tore away from the coal face. In stark contrast, his boss, the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam, was paid 12 shillings and 6 pence for every ton of coal that was brought to the surface.
The Government propaganda, then as now, was that all this ill-gotten wealth would simply trickle down from the rich to the poor. But as far as the miners could see, all that seemed to happen was that the wealth generated with their sweat and blood would pour ever upwards into the hands of the Earl, who was quite content residing in England’s largest private residence.
Rabiha Hannan (coordinator of RESPECT)
Rabiha retold a harrowing story that highlighted the problems caused by the mainstreaming of hate. She remembered the time she invited a builder into her house, to later discover that his only knowledge of Muslims (who they were and what they believed in) was absolutely 100% wrong.
Through talking to Rabiha and her husband, not about faith, but about everyday life in general, the builder came to realise that not all Muslims were evil personified. He even felt comfortable enough to admit to her, with some regret, that in the aftermath of 9/11, “if someone had given him a button to press to eradicate all Muslims, then he would have pressed it.”
Unidentified Irish Man
He simply added that when he first came to live in England after leaving Ireland, English people automatically assumed he was a terrorist, all because of his Irish accent.
Jess Green (local poet and school worker)
Jess ended the evening by reciting four seering political poems to an audience hanging upon her every word. Three of the heart-rending poems performed by Jess included “Tell Me Stories,” “Held Back By Nicky Morgan,” and “Friday Night” (see below).
Concluding Reflections Upon the Night
We live in dangerous times, when the expression of dissenting political opinions can result in severe and disproportionate reprimands. To merely state the obvious, that the barbarians of Islamic State “grew out of the invasion of Iraq” and were concieved within the bowels of imperialist wars, is too extreme an opinion for the Goverment to accept. Hence Jeremy Corbyn is considered fair game by the Tories, who brand him as a terrorist sympathiser, a friend of ISIS no less.
For decades, Islamaphobia has found a comfortable home with mainstream politics and the corporate media. Thus the Government’s so-called PREVENT anti-terror strategy is just the latest contribution to this toxic political legacy of intolerance.
In today’s world, to be a socialist is to be branded an extremist. To support workers protesting against Government policy is to be identified as an extremist. Likewise, while it used to be Irish citizens and mine workers who were considered the “enemy within,” it is now apparently Muslims.
Students (especially Muslim students) protesting against groups like the English Defence League, who not so long ago marched through Leicester city centre, are also ripe for targeting by the Government’s anti-terror fearmongers. PREVENT enforcers have made it clear that Leicester students should stay at home while the extreme right-wing troops of the EDL take to our streets, lest the students want to be considered extremists themselves!
We are all opposed to terrorists, especially to the death-cult that calls itself Islamic State. But as socialists, we are also well aware of the toxic political role that needless (often illegal) imperialist wars in the Middle East have played in fueling the rise of extremist right-wing forces.
Hypocritical Government anti-terror strategies that isolate and penalise the Muslim community have no part in solving the world’s ongoing problems. A struggle for democracy against the undemocratic dictates of our own Government, however, can play a central role in helping us come together to create a world free from oppression and war.