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Engaging the radical margins

April 2, 2011
Outside Fortnum & Mason, March 26

Outside Fortnum & Mason, March 26

The March 26 protests in London against public spending cuts and tax avoidance by big corporations have elicited a fair amount of media attention and discussion as to what constitutes legitimate peaceful protest.

Questions of proportional policing and legitimate protest tactics are complex political issues that merit in depth debate. Like UK Uncut I’m not going to condone or condemn the actions of the “black bloc”; instead I’d like to make a point about the nature of the debate both within left wing circles and in the mainstream media.

While some have made valiant efforts to start a grown up discussion on this topic, others have been less mature. The Guardian has done some good reporting interviewing black block activists, but most comment and coverage of the black bloc has focused on its actions rather than its ideas.

Taking a lesson from my main area of academic interest – politics in the Middle East – I’d like to point out that the key to good policy is informed debate. Refusing to engage with the complex motivations and ideologies of insurgent movements or terrorist groups gets us no closer to resolving the conflicts which produce those movements.

In comparison with many political extremists, the hard left in the UK is pretty cuddly – smashing a few windows is small fry in the grand scheme of political violence. It’s understandable that the majority of Britons want to condemn these actions, but the media should do more than hold up a mirror to national knee-jerk reactions – it should inform a better understanding of the political context.

I’m not expecting Daily Mail journalists to start reading the Anarchist FAQ, but the anti-cuts movement would benefit its internal debates by facing head on the ideas present in the radical margins.

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