Wednesday, October 24, 2018

More at The Corner

Over recent months Speakers' Corner has taken on a new lease of life, not all of it healthy. The 'home of free speech' has become the arena for a weekly gladiatorial contest between Islamophobic English nationalists and a fluid group of young Muslim men, as eager to defend their religion as their opponents are to insult it. The result has been much noise, little enlightenment.

The conflict began in March, when the Austrian far-right Generation Identity leader Martin Sellner was refused entry to the UK and deported. The following week English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson and a large number of his supporters descended on Speakers' Corner to protest at what they regarded as a denial of their right to free speech. Some of them have been around ever since, apparently happy to have found an easily accessible target for their anger.

Testosterone levels are high (very few women are involved), and police intervention has become a regular feature. After some years during which there were often none to be seen at the Corner on a Sunday afternoon, police are now present in force, their vans strategically parked and rows of constables lined up to step in and separate the two groups when they overheat.

In another new development, the clashes are now available to the world beyond in the form of hours of mostly unedited, often chaotic footage posted on YouTube. Everyone is either filming or being filmed, sometimes both at the same time, and the resulting broadcasts can pick up 20,000 or more views within hours of posting.

So the place has got a lot busier, and although endless religious arguments remain its most prominent (and least interesting) feature, crowd numbers are well up, there are still some discussions worth a listen - and still the occasional frisson when the police go on manoeuvres. More 2018 pictures here, older photos from my book here.