I attended a protest today against the LGBT concentration camps that have been established in Chechnya. I stood with students, politicians, and my fellow LGBTs as we decried the actions of the Chechen government and petitioned our leaders to act.
I went to another protest in February, against Theresa May’s tacit support of Donald Trump and his anti-woman, anti-muslim policies. I went to a protest and I held up a sign that compared Trump and May to Hitler and Chamberlain. (The other side read: ‘Veto the Cheeto’ in my very best handwriting.)
At that protest, we were confronted by members of an ‘alt-right’ (fascist) group. They yelled at us, called us names, and threatened violence. We laughed them off and towards the end of the protest we noticed that their jeering was becoming less and less motivated. The entire time we were protected by a ring of policemen, in case things became more agitated.
Last week, we saw accidental activist Saffiyah Khan celebrated for her cheeky smile in response to an angry EDL member. “All I saw was an angry man having a bit of a rant.” She said later. The EDL faction later said ‘[Khan is] lucky she got [sic] any teeth left’. Twitter found it hilarious.
In Britain, extremists like the EDL and other fascist groups talk a big game, but they are powerless. My good friend Rob was ‘threatened’ (if you can call this pissantry that) in the comment section of his article by a man going by the name ‘Pareto’: ‘Your life is about to change in ways you cannot possibly imagine… now you’re being investigated by some nasty people. Hope it was worth it.’ ‘Pareto’ turned out to be a white trash trailer dweller from the states. Rob feels very threatened. Not.
We’re very lucky in that respect – that when facing threats of violence to ourselves and our property, we’re able to go ‘yeah right mate’ and laugh it off. We feel protected – by the state, by our friends and family, and by the sheer force of our opinions. We have the backing of millions, and we call upon that feeling in every political social media post and every ‘punch a nazi’ badge.
We’re very lucky to have that privilege. The vast majority of us have never been truly threatened by extremism. We worry about walking in the bad part of town, we worry about the angry drunks on the way back from the club, but we very rarely worry about voicing our opinions. Why should we? We’ve never been made to feel afraid of doing so.
There are no protests in Chechnya. For the Chechen people, protest is not a right, but a risk. The president, Ramzan Kadyrov, is a dictator who routinely has the militia kidnap, torture, and murder his opponents for slights as simple as criticising him on Youtube. It is a mirror world, where fascists enjoy the same confidence in their opinions that we have in ours.
Places like that exist all over the world, and we must never forget that there are people in this country right now who would like a place like that to exist here. I saw a man on twitter today compare the horror of concentration camps to people telling him his fascist views were not welcome. I am so thankful that he was able to do so, because it served as a reminder that – luckily – even men like that never have to fear to voice their horrible opinions. And, luckily, there is nothing to stop me from telling him how awful and ignorant those opinions are.
We can smile in the face of extremism in every form – we can push it down and ridicule it and tell it to bog off, and we absolutely must continue to do so. We must continue to protest. We must continue to resist. And we must do so because even in this day and age, a great number of people cannot.