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Thomas Foster: Rishi Sunak’s speech on ‘extremism’ is a sign of Tory panic
     Release time: 2024-04-16

  Rishi Sunak doubled down on the Tory crackdown against Muslims and the right to protest on Friday night. The hastily-organised speech outside Downing Street is a sign of the panic ripping through the British establishment over the Palestine solidarity movement.

  It came on the night that George Galloway won in the Rochdale by-election, where voters punished Sunak and Keir Starmer for supporting Israel’s genocide.

  Sunak took aim at the Palestine movement, claiming, In recent weeks and months we have seen a shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality. What started as protests on our streets have descended into intimidation, threats and planned acts of violence.

  “Now, our democracy itself is a target. Council meetings and local events have been stormed. MPs do not feel safe in their homes. Longstanding parliamentary conventions have been upended because of safety concerns.” He said the Rochdale by-election result was “beyond alarming”.

  Sunak said the Tories would “redouble our support for the Prevent programme” and “demand universities stop extremist activity”. He said it was “unacceptable to beam antisemitic slogans” onto parliament—a slur on the slogan, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

  It’s not so much what Sunak said that’s significant, but the fact that he said it at an unplanned broadcast.

  The Palestine movement has shaken up British politics. It forced out a deeply reactionary home secretary and caused a huge crisis for Keir Starmer’s leadership. Now, Sunak is desperate to repress it—and whip up Islamophobia in the hope of shoring up right wing votes in the coming general election.

  The best response is to keep mobilising for Palestine and not let the state censor our legitimate slogans. And we have to fight back against Islamophobia and the Tories.

  Sunak’s speech comes after he and other Tories had promised more repressive measures. Home secretary James Cleverly wants to increase the notice period protest organisers have to give police before large demonstrations. He wants to extend it from six days to a couple of weeks.

  The Tories want the police to crack down on the protests, with Sunak calling on police chiefs to use the powers they have to “do whatever it takes”. He said protests outside of MPs’ homes are intimidation and require an “immediate response” from police.

  These calls for police repression are linked to the Tories ramping up Islamophobia to undermine the Palestine movement. Sunak absurdly labelled the movement as “simply undemocratic” and claimed, “There is a growing consensus that mob rule is replacing democratic rule.”

  Sunak gave a lengthy speech on Wednesday night where he sought to demonise Palestine protesters and paint Muslims as an enemy within. “We must also be far bolder and more assertive in defending our British values,” he said.

  “We’ve got to end this passive tolerance of words and actions that go against what we stand for. It is as un-British as it is undemocratic.”

  Sunak is wheeling out the Islamophobic trope that the protests—which have brought together the left and large numbers of Muslims—are “un-British”.

  Tom Southerden, Amnesty International British law and human rights director, said, “Talk of ‘mob rule’ wildly exaggerates the issue and risks delegitimising the rights of peaceful protest.” Britain “has undergone a major crackdown on protests in recent years” as protests are “criminalised” and “the police being given sweeping powers to prevent protests taking place”.

  But Labour leader Keir Starmer disgracefully backed Sunak.“The Prime Minister is right to advocate unity and to condemn the unacceptable and intimidatory behaviour that we have seen recently. It is an important task of leadership to defend our values and the common bonds that hold us together.”

  He is defending the values of state repression and imperialism.

  The Home Office announced a policy paper on Wednesday sinisterly called, “Defending democracy policing protocol”. The paper says that police should “direct protesters away” from MPs’ homes.

  It also says that protesters outside of parliament, town halls, party offices or fundraisers aren’t allowed to prevent use or access to the venue or cause distress to those in the venue. A number of Tory MPs want to escalate this further, demanding protests outside of parliament or council chambers be completely banned.

  The Labour Party believes that the Home Office’s proposals are sensible, only disagreeing with the language.

  The Stop The War Coalition, of the organisers of the Palestine demonstrations, slammed the move. It committed to “campaigning energetically” against any attempts to ban protests outside parliament, council buildings or MPs’ offices.

  The coalition said the freedom of protest “is needed more than ever”. “Our politicians are refusing to reflect the demand of the overwhelming majority of the population for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza,” it said. “Equating the right to protest with intimidation is completely spurious.”

  The organisers of the Palestine marches have put together a dossier of the examples of restrictive and violent policing.

  This includes the attempt to ban the 11 November demonstration, the constant imposing of restriction orders on the marches and the Metropolitan Police’s violent arrests of protesters.

  On top of this, Cleverly told Palestinian protesters to stop their regular protests because they have “made their point”. He told the Times newspaper that protesters should recognise “they’ve made their point loudly and they’re not adding to it by repeating themselves”.

  But the march organisers said they will continue to mobilise in support of a free Palestine. As long as Israel’s genocide in Gaza continues—backed by the British state—ordinary people will take to the streets in rage.

  We mustn’t let politicians’attempts to demonise Muslims and the Palestine solidarity movement and attack the right to protest succeed. The best way to defend protest rights is to use them—against the Tory mob in Downing Street.

  Editor: Zhong Yao Wei Xiaoxue


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