Editorial | Provoking anti-Islamists begets their legitimacy
Ignoring a problem isn’t going to make it go away, but when it comes to plans by ten European anti-Islamic groups to hold a rally in Aarhus this spring, the best strategy for reacting is not to do anything at all.
That isn’t an argument in favour of ignoring an undercurrent of hate towards minority groups, but responding to their angry gathering with counter-demonstrations would energise the debate and serve to legitimise what in reality is just a small group of disaffected hooligans.
It’s understandable that people outraged by their message want to show their distaste by actively taking part in counter-demonstrations. But any public reaction to the rally – be it peaceful marches, police in full riot gear or frothy-mouthed anti-fascists ready to come to blows – only gives the appearance that these groups are part of a movement to be reckoned with.
Calls to ban the rally outright are misplaced as well, even if their message crosses over into areas that are banned by hate speech laws. Instead of keeping them silent and having everyone think of them as fools, we’d prefer that they be allowed to speak and remove all doubt.
Islamic groups in Denmark have called on their members to keep away from the meeting, saying that it would just be asking for trouble. We applaud their restraint. As the object of these groups’ hatred, it would be easy for Muslims to be goaded into confronting them. Other groups would be wise to follow their example.
Not reacting to the English Defence League’s provocation requires striking a balance, however, because what you can’t ignore is the pool of disaffection they tap into. That disaffection has in Denmark fuelled the rise of Dansk Folkeparti, the Front National in France, Jörg Haider’s Austrian Freedom Party, and other like-minded groups across Europe.
Extremist figures like Anders Breivik and Geert Wilders are also known to have supported the message of the English Defence League. Breivik’s rampage does undermine the claim that these groups and their sympathisers only become dangerous if we let them, but at the same time their commitment to racist ideals means there is little to be gained by engaging them, whether through peaceful demonstrations or belligerent confrontation.
The English Defence League says it doesn’t expect the Aarhus rally to be a big one. We shouldn’t help them make it any bigger.