Just as the threat from the far-Right seems to have found a new voice with the emergence of anti- Muslim protests by the English Defence League, it appears that the ongoing feud between two leading anti-fascist organisations, Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and Searchlight, has in the words of one side of a new unseemly row, “got out of hand”, and is about to descent into legal action.
Nick Lowles from Searchlight wrote to the UAF Steering Committee on 1 September demanding a public apology for allegations made in a UAF document entitled “Lessons of the 2009 election of the BNP to the European Parliament for anti-fascist strategy”. UAF was given until Friday 11 September to respond with a full retraction and public apology for allegations that Lowles “personally of pandering to racism, spreading racist myths and writing material that ‘would not be out of place on a BNP leaflet’”. Otherwise, steering committee members were warned that Lowles would “pursue this matter further, up to and including legal action against those responsible for the document”. This includes raising the issue with the TUC Congress.
Although copies of this letter have now started to circulate within UAF, no such apology or retraction appears to have been offered.
Assessing the debate over strategy within the anti-fascist movement in the Lessons of the 2009 election document, UAF had argued:
There have been many debates over strategy in the anti-fascist movement…The two poles in this debate have been Searchlight, on the one hand, and the UAF, on the other. Searchlight walked out of the UAF some years ago, splitting the anti-fascist movement, when it was criticised for making concessions to racism by giving credence to myths, rejected by the local Police Service, that a major phenomenon of so called ‘Asian grooming’ of young girls for sex by Muslim men due to their marriage customs, uniquely emerged as a major problem in West Yorkshire.Criticising Lowles personally for an article he wrote in Searchlight in April 2005 called Tackling Taboo Issues, it goes on:
It did not confront racism, and still less, Islamophobia head on in its campaign, instead over some years making concessions to racist myths. This approach was spelled out particularly clearly some time ago when Nick Knowles wrote: ‘In Keighley, grooming is a real not a perceived problem. In other parts of the country the issues might be Asian gang violence against young whites, Black drug dealers or even alleged preferential funding. It is no point denying that some Asians and young Blacks are involved in crime because they clearly are. It is pointless denying some predominantly ethnic minority communities receive more funding than their white neighbours because, again, they clearly do’ (Searchlight, April 2005). This quote would not be out of place on a BNP leaflet and it has never been repudiated by Searchlight. In reality, of course, racist attacks are overwhelmingly directed against Black, Asian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Jewish communities; most Black and Asian communities are much less well-funded than the national average on virtually every criterion; and all ethnicities have paedophiles, gangs and criminals.Aside from spelling his name incorrectly, Lowles has complained of the “selective use of sentences from an article" and that:
...the quote attributed to me in the UAF document never existed in the form that it has now been reproduced. The author(s) has merely taken sentences from two separate paragraphs and added them together, conveniently missing out certain other sentences, which throw a very different light on my article.In an internal letter to supporters of Searchlight’s HOPE Not Hate campaign, Lowles has added:
I do not want to re-open a feud with the UAF - we have enough to do in fighting the BNP - but I hope you will understand my need to defend my reputation and that of Searchlight/HOPE not hate.Frankly, the allegations against Lowles are appalling – whatever the disagreement about tactics, Lowles has offered some thoughtful ideas about the way forward and it is hard to comprehend why the SWP dominated UAF would think it appropriate to circulate a paper accusing him of pandering to racism. For the time being at least, it can still be easily downloaded from both the Yorkshire & the Humber UAF website and the Sheffield UAF Facebook page.
But will UAF apologise? Or will this end in the courts? Whatever happens, this is an ugly dispute that needs resolving quickly.