Today around 80 supporters of the far right gathered in Aotea Square brandishing placards in support of Tommy Robinson. Robinson is a former member of the fascist British National Party, and founded the English Defence League. He and his cronies are committed to fighting the ‘Islamisation’ of Europe. Robinson is currently in jail for contempt of court.
When I turned up at the rally to join a counter-protest, I felt sick to the stomach to hear these people talking about ‘free speech’, and then proceeding to hand out leaflets and tell passers-by to educate themselves about the threat of Islam. Make no mistake, Robinson and his ilk – though some of the supporters at the rally may indeed have been hoodwinked into thinking they were defending the right to non-violent freedom of expression – are toxic, racist and their ‘freedom of speech’ is in fact hate speech. They want the ‘freedom’ to label Islam a ‘rape culture’ – yes, that is what they were saying today – to pose Muslims as the great evil and to use scaremongering as a tactic to achieve their ends. Their poisonous ‘free speech’ is a threat to the cohesion and unity the Kiwi working class needs in order to fight the true evils – homelessness, lack of housing, a crumbling health service, the pollution of our land and waterways, climate change. The list goes on. What we need is to unite – regardless of religion, ethnicity, country of birth, or sexual orientation – to take on a system that sees big corporates pay zero tax and the rest of us with below inflation wage rises and taxed to the eyeballs when many can barely get by on their wage.
In the 90s I was a proud member the Anti Nazi League and Media Workers against the Nazis. We tackled the far-right on the streets and in our organisations, with a broad united front that included church groups, unions, political groups with what appeared to be petty differences in the face of the fascist far right and many more. As media workers we tackled the inassailable right to free speech for those who abuse free speech to incite violence against certain ethnicities and religions. As a journalist I absolutely am against censorship; however, we should not give a platform to those who hide behind an agenda of ‘freedom’ when they want to deny the freedom of safety, the right to walk safely down a street as a Muslim family, to those they tar with the brush of rapists and terrorists.
We must not allow their toxic hate speech to win over hearts and minds. 80 to 100 far right activists is 80-100 too many. It’s time to unite, to rally in numbers and said loud and clear ‘Fascism is not and never will be tolerated in Aotearoa New Zealand’.