Baffled tourists and gangs of bemused foreign language students looked on in confusion as the English Defence League marched through the streets of the quintessential English city of Cambridge on Saturday.
Cambridge welcomes over four million tourists every year, providing over £350 million for the local economy. Foreign students come there in their thousands to study the English language or undergraduate courses at the world famous University. The University boast students from 120 different countries and has educated at least 25 heads of foreign government (and 15 of our own). Diversity and multi-culturalism is not only part of the place – it is the city’s bread and butter.
The English Defence League may have sat uncomfortably amongst punts and bicycles, as their shouts of “these streets are our streets” met with the blank looks of academics and city folk, but there was perhaps something more disturbing at play. A counter demonstration had been brewing on social networks calling for the people of Cambridge to Unite Against Fascism. Insults began flying long before the event and the EDL had been labelled as “sad, fat, losers” by Facebook combatants.
A quick conversation with some of the EDL demonstrators in Cambridge revealed an angry bunch of people, many of them had served in Britain’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some had seen friends and family killed. They shouted their support for the military along with their hatred for Muslims, but the overwhelming feeling was of being let down by the system. Many were tattooed, drunk and offensive, but a great deal more were simply sad, angry and hurt. Having listened to some of their grievances, something felt very wrong about witnessing the great brains of Cambridge, and the likes of Charlie Veitch – famed Love Police activist – shouting abuse at them across a heavily policed cordon. Charlie used a megaphone to point out their ignorance and scoffed at their inability to read – humiliating them to the applause of the privialeged middle-classes of Cambridge. The argument of “united-Cambridge” was suddenly weakened into what appeared to be the age-old Town versus Gown dispute. A class war. Even Charlie agreed that the war in Afghanistan may play some part in the way people are feeling, so perhaps we stopped wasting time and public money of petty demonstrations (over 600 police were drafted into Cambridge for the event) and turned superior Cambridge brains into looking at the route causes of extreme behaviour.
One can be proud of multi-cultural Cambridge, but not of it’s quintessential snobbery and it’s inherent dismissal of anyone with a different point of view. The smart people would be listening and coming up with smart solutions not shouting.