I’m pretty sure everyone remembers “your mom” being an insult at school. Just to be annoying, my friend used to reply “your mom” to absolutely everything anyone said for minutes at a time. Usually this resulted in total nonsense:
“Hey, can I borrow your protractor?”
“Your mom's a protractor.”
However, occasionally, by chance, it would sort of make sense.
“What? My mom's a protractor? Whatever."
*gap of a few minutes*
"So what are you doing tonight?”
“Doing your Mom. Ayoooooo.”
“Your mom sucks.”
By carpet-bombing us with “your mom” slurs, my annoying friend knew he'd never miss out on those rare occasions when the immature joke actually worked.
With about the same level of maturity, the English Defence League (EDL) have been blaming Muslims for pretty much everything that’s wrong with Britain for years. If you say “Muslims” every time someone asks who you should blame for something, then occasionally some Muslim people are going do something wrong and you’re going to feel vindicated.
This has been happening in relation to child sexual exploitation (CSE) since 2012, when an investigation by Andrew Norfolk in the Times exposed networks of Pakistani grooming gangs operating in the north of England. The EDL leapt on it, and it became one of the biggest sticks that the group used to figuratively and literally beat the country's Muslim population.
Last month, a new report emerged that made the EDL feel vindicated. Professor Alexis Jay—the leader of an inquiry into CSE in Rotherham and the author of the now-infamous report—estimates that some 1,400 children were sexually exploited in the South Yorkshire town from 1997 to 2013, with the vast majority of the perpetrators being of Pakistani heritage.
Many victims were also Pakistani, but the EDL used the sorry situation as a way to sell a story about exclusively English girls falling victim to Muslim abusers. That the authorities failed to act out for fear of being "politically incorrect" just adds to their sense of having been right all along.
They decided to take that message onto the streets of Rotherham on Saturday, so I went to see them pay their respects to the victims of sexual exploitation by getting drunk and fighting.
When I arrived, members of the various far-right splinter groups that were in attendance were milling around, and riot police lined every street. A few shops had their shutters down and many of those that didn’t had employees stationed by the doors, peering out anxiously.
Wandering towards the demonstration, an EDL supporter started telling me about the Kincora Boys’ Home in Belfast, which was the scene of years of sexual abuse that was allegedly covered up by the secret services. Looking back, I wish I had asked what that had to do with the creeping Islamification of the UK, which is what the EDL’s statements have all been about.
On arrival, it was clear that I was among a group of people who believe that their collective bias has been confirmed in the most resounding way possible. The whole thing was like a really grim “I told you so.”
About a minute after this picture was taken, an EDL steward noticed myself and VICE photographer Jake Lewis. He implied that if we didn’t leave, Jake’s camera might get smashed, switching between thinly veiled threats and insisting that he was there to stop any trouble from happening.
We decided not to get beaten up and instead wandered along to the nearby Unite Against Fascism (UAF) demonstration. It was pretty small and sedate in comparison.
In this instance, there are reasons why an event held by the UAF wouldn't hold too much appeal. The organization was formed as a front for the Socialist Workers Party, a number of whose dwindling membership were hanging around. The SWP is in the process of declining from the biggest far-left party in Britain to a cultish rump after its own sexual abuse scandal.
I bumped into a Labour Party activist named Jane. I asked her what she made of the council’s negligence, which has led to four of her party members being suspended pending investigation. “I wouldn’t like to see a UKIP [the anti-immigration Independence Party] council, put it that way,” she said, with the sort of blind loyalty and complacency that seemed to sum up a lot of what went wrong in the first place.
Then I spoke to John, a retired social worker. He said, “It’s not a new issue at all and it exists in every city in the country. The horror of it is that it was ignored.”
I asked why he thought it was ignored. “There’s a resource issue, but it’s also because of the disregard that some of these agencies have, particularly the police. They call it "SOS"—[which stands for] Scum On Scum. There's a belief sometimes that people who were being exploited were asking for it, or weren’t important. Mostly young working-class girls who had already been in trouble or had a criminal record.”
Then he added, "The most obvious case of sex abuse I ever dealt with was a white pedophile who attached himself to an Asian family. I didn’t run off saying this is what sex abuse is about, because it happens in all communities.”
Back near the EDL, assorted far-right splinter groups—those who are too openly racist even to be admitted to the main demonstration—were being forced to hold their own little march. From the flags, it looked like it included the National Front (NF) and someone from the Englisc Resistance (that is the correct spelling). Having been told to leave the EDL demo earlier, I reflected that this was the first time I had ever been treated in the same way as a member of the NF.
Oh, and something called the World Church of the Creator were also reportedly somewhere nearby. Those guys are made of people who spent the 1980s praying to their God, Adolf Hitler, and publishing something called "The White Man's Bible." Good sorts, basically.
After the splinter groups had tramped past, the mass of angry EDLers swelled into the road.
And, as they rounded a corner, a bunch of guys stood by the road applauding them.
But then, for whatever reason, the two groups started fighting. The EDL broke through the police lines, sending the metal barriers that lined the route crashing to the floor, chasing their unwanted fans away. It’s not clear exactly what happened—one report said that a group of NF members had attacked the EDL for calling them “Hitler lovers”; another said the EDL attacked the NF for heckling an EDL rainbow flag.
Having broken out, they took the opportunity to enjoy a bit of a rampage on a nearby grassy verge, showing off their stab-proof vests and football shirts with the names of French people on the back.
With the rampage over, the march continued over a bridge...
Until it reached Rotherham police station. This has been the site of a two-week campsite vigil demanding that Shaun Wright, the current police commissioner, should resign.
Wright was in charge of children’s services during the time that much of the abuse occurred. It’s possible that his failure to resign has made him even more of a pariah than the EDL. He has insisted that he “genuinely believes” it’s in the victims’ “best interests” for him to stay in his post, despite the grandfather of an alleged victim telling him, “If I had a gun, I would shoot you,” on Thursday and the EDL visiting his home every single day.
At some point, some speeches were made, but we were too far away to hear them, so we headed back into town, where some of those who had broken away from the demo were still marching around.
It was time to leave. On the way out of Rotherham I spoke to Sue and Anne, who were both pretty unhappy about their town being turned into a racists' playground. Sue (on the left in the photo above) said, “It’s really bad what’s happened. But this isn’t helping—the EDL coming and causing splits in the community. It’s absolutely terrible.”
In a sense, her opinion is one that's borne out by the Alexis Jay report. Any failure to tackle sexual abuse by Pakistani men for fear that it could “give oxygen” to racist perspectives can only be condemned. But according to the report, “to some extent this concern was valid, with the apparent targeting of the town by groups such as the English Defence League.”
By claiming that the crimes of a group of Pakistani men reflect badly on every British Muslim, the EDL may have made the crimes harder to report. It could also be argued that it made it easier for negligent or complicit authorities to bat away allegations involving non-white people as “racist.”
Despite being somewhat counterproductive, the EDL's narrative clearly makes sense to a few people. I spoke to a 17-year-old girl named Tegan, who said she didn’t usually support the EDL but thought it was good that “someone” was standing up against the abuse. It seemed to sum up the problem. A total failure to tackle the issue at an institutional level has allowed the EDL to pose as white knights, storming in to sort out the awful mess because everyone else is either too apathetic or incompetent to do so.