ANGER AND OPPORTUNISM IN EAST LONDON
The police shot one of my neighbours a couple of weeks ago. People around here are pretty pissed off about it, and this afternoon hundreds of us attended a protest march through our local area in Forest Gate, east London.
At 4 a.m. on 2nd June, 250 armed police turned up in a residential street around the corner from my house. Fifty of them broke into one family's home, terrorised the inhabitants, shot 23-year-old Mohammed Abdul Kahar in the chest as he came downstairs in his night-clothes, and arrested him and his brother Abdul Koyair on suspicion of terrorism. Their next-door neighbours were also terrorised, assaulted, handcuffed and humiliated during the raid. Mohammed Abdul Kahar's family home was later trashed by police looking for chemical weapons. Both he and his brother were eventually released without charge. As one of the placards at today's demonstration drily put it, "No WMDs in Iraq, no WMDs in Forest Gate."
Billed in the publicity flyers as a "United Communities' Protest March", the demonstration boasted a great diversity of participants: multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-faith, and -- here's the rub of it -- of (almost) every political persuasion. As a show of solidarity with those who were assaulted on 2nd June, this diversity was impressive. But as a political tactic to oppose state racism and violence, the indiscriminate mixing of the march's official political supporters was at best misguided. The friends, neighbours and families both of Mohammed Abdul Kahar, too ill to attend the demonstration himself, and of Jean Charles de Menezes, shot to death by ("anti-") terrorist police last year, all spoke movingly at the rally of their suffering and their fight for justice. They found themselves sharing the platform with an ragbag of activists, hacks and professional politicians, from the local Conservatives to the Respect Party, from Hizb ut Tahrir to the Stop the War Coalition. This apparently disparate political bunch managed to find some things in common: their shameless opportunism, and their inherent opposition to revolutionary change and genuine freedom alike. This was reinforced by the march organisers' insistence that "a peaceful demonstration underlines our community values" and that marchers should behave themselves accordingly. For some of the marchers, those "community values" included gender segregation, with a sizeable proportion of the march placing men at the front and women at the back in a display of patriarchal power which the march as a whole did nothing to condemn, to say the least. Certainly none of those "community values" included any acts of physical or verbal insurrection as we were shepherded through the streets and past Forest Gate Police Station by the march stewards and, er, the police. Peaceful marches, community rallies, barnstorming speeches delivered to well behaved audiences: it was all just playing the game of liberal democracy, a game which politically underpins global capitalism, encouraging us to "enjoy" our state-endowed "right" to peaceful protest when we should be enjoying freedoms of an altogether more torrential nature.
A few hundred metres from Forest Gate police station, I was jolted back to surreality by a group of mannequins in a shop window, startlingly naked, full-frontal, pressing themselves up against the glass, leering at us suggestively as we respectably passed by. It was all too obvious what those mannequins were after: if they had had their way we would all have been as naked as they were, taking over Romford Road not with a "peaceful community demonstration" but with the fantastical eroticism of imaginations in revolt. They subjected us to their uncanny gaze from behind the window pane. How much longer until they come to life and smash their way out?