I visited Auschwitz for the first time last November as part of Unite Against Fascism’s annual trip. I was one of a diverse delegation of activists. Seeing the camps, but also visiting the ghettos in Krakow and learning of the persecution the Jews experienced within them, was a deeply distressing experience.
But the parallels between what we saw and learned on the trip with the political climate of today were what enraged us as activists. While on the trip, we received the news that Ofsted had announced it was going to question girls under the age of 11 about why they wear the headscarf; one school in Newham was rumoured to be planning to ban both headscarves and fasting.
The similarity between that and the example of Nazis shaving the beards of Jews in the ghettos makes it strikingly clear how the racist policies of the state have opened a space for the far-right on the streets.
As someone who studies and lives in east London, and a part of the large Muslim community within it, I’ve seen my local area being increasingly targeted by the racism and bigotry of Nazis.
In October 60 Nazis marched past East London Mosque with intent to return. On campus at Queen Mary, University of London, Muslim women have come forward telling us that they’ve been harassed or called terrorists on the streets. A fellow student was shaken when she was approached on a campaigning stall and called a “n*****”.
Islamophobia, as the dominant form of state racism today, has not only opened up east London as a target for the far-right, but in turn has also created a space for fascism to grow.
But east London has a proud and rich history of fighting racism. In 2016 people (including Jeremy Corbyn) came together to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street, where in 1936 the community in east London organised to stop Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists from marching.
That tradition was never lost. When I became politically active, we used to assemble in front of East London Mosque whenever Britain First announced it was going to march. If you walk around east London you’ll find anti-fascist slogans graffitied around canals and parks, and pass pubs such as the Bow Bells, with its “Control Alt-Right Delete” banner.
While the fascists continue to target east London, the area’s strong tradition of fighting fascism is summoned with greater urgency.
Much like they did in 1936, people in east London are mobilising once more to ban far-right marches in the area. This campaign has been launched off the back of Donald Trump retweeting Britain First’s lie that the area around the East London Mosque was a “no go area”.
Similarly, in Doncaster last weekend, local residents, many of them from the Roma community, came out and joined a demonstration which pushed the EDL out of Hexthorpe.
We need to continue to organise locally and drive Nazis off our streets and out of our areas. But confronting fascism on the streets is far short of enough.
The fact that Muslim women bear the brunt of racist attacks on the streets is directly related to the constant comment by politicians and the media about them under the guise of concern about their “independence”.
Nor can we divorce fascist marches through migrant communities (like the recent failed attempt in Hexthorpe against the Roma community) from the state’s relentless xenophobia and scapegoating.
Our anti-racist movement must be a double-edged sword. We need to continue confronting the Nazis on the streets, but we also need to confront the state, whose racist policies have given a platform to those Nazis.