Grace Dent on TV: EDL Girls: Don’t Call Me Racist BBC 3

Gail said she was no racist, just ‘offended by people who look like bin-bags’ 

In the midst of mutterings about BBC 3’s “closure” and its planned switch to a web-only home, the channel boasted, with irony, one of the week’s most interesting shows. I’m sure the BBC’s line on this would be that EDL Girls: Don’t Call Me Racist – a thoughtful look at northern women versus, to their minds, Muslim extremism – would have been made regardless for BBC1.

I’m not wholly sure that it would because EDL Girls was a very BBC 3 sort of documentary with some of its best subjects being young teen girls, like Katie. Sixteen, bright and kind-faced, Katie was just at that age where being yelled at in the street for wearing a revealing pink mini-dress by some lads could make a young girl believe joining the EDL was some sort of pro-feminist statement. To chivvy her along on this transition was Katie’s big sister’s new father-in-law, Jay, an assertive, verbose bloke and an EDL blowhard.

Jay was often centre-stage at Katie’s home, confidently spouting pertinent “facts” to illustrate how Britain’s gone down the pan. Like how Kingsmill bread is halal, don’t you know, and therefore can’t be eaten by Christians. Makes him mad, it does.

In fact, pennies from every loaf went to put bullets into the guns of Taliban soldiers! I noticed Tommy Robinson spouting similar views in a documentary recently rejecting a perfectly tasty looking home-made pakora that Mo Ansar’s family offered him – despite being starving – on the grounds he can’t eat halal as a British person.

“Oh Tommy you are a numpty,” I recall thinking, because it’s tempting sometimes to treat the EDL like slow-witted scamps rather than a fearsome fighting force. Later on in EDL Girls, new EDL recruit Amanda was told off for posting photos on Facebook of herself wearing a Hitler moustache and doing a Nazi salute. It’s like a deleted scene from Chris Morris’s Four Lions. “You can’t do this,” an older woman told Amanda, “Because Hitler, well, he was an, um, racist.” Amanda looked confused. She clearly had no idea who Hitler was. None. “And some of our older members have granddads who fought against Hitler,” the woman continued, “So that’s, um, quite bad.”

Jay convinced Katie that she should stand in Reading town centre to support his wearing a niqab so he could make the point that white men aren’t allowed to cover their faces like Muslim women are, “which under the equal rights act is against the law”. This appeared, at least, to be what Jay thought his protest was. Is it an offence for a white man to cover his face in public? A balaclava won’t win you many friends at a bus stop, but would the police carry you away? Jay thought yes. Jay is not a racist, he claims. He just wants the right to put a niqab on over an EDL badge emblazoned hoodie and stand beside the Koran School leaflet kiosk telling passers-by his freedoms are being encroached by “them fundamentalists”.

As Katie sloped away, growingly mortified, a variety of erudite passers-by came to reason with Jay. A Muslim man in his thirties tried to tell Jay he, personally, had never ever met a terrorist and in fact didn’t even know any women who covered their faces. A bookish teen tried to tell Jay that a cornerstone of the British constitution is for us all to be able to practise our religion. Jay had no answer for this. Or, more accurately, Jay had lots of answers about grooming-gangs, Muslim bombers and the determination of British Muslims to have us all live under sharia law that could only leave the Saturday shopper keen to escape. But there’s no escape for Katie, her entire family chatter about “the Muslim problem” all day long.

EDL Girls’ most unsettling story was of Gail, a Yorkshire EDL regional leader and one of the founding EDL Angels. On the surface there was a lot to admire about Gail as she was resourceful and dependable and seemed at her happiest brushing her dogs or making her son bacon butties. Gail didn’t think she was a racist, but then she would say things like, “Muslims find the way I am offensive, but I’m offended every time I see a bin-bag wander down my street”. Other EDL members spoke of being offended by “people talking foreign on the bus cos they could be planning to kill me” and “the Muslim plan to stop me smoking in the street”. Gail’s life was committed to fighting against “the way this country is going”, from leading an EDL rally into the middle of Tower Hamlets to make the point that this is their country, to staging England Days full of drinking and shouting.

The film followed the court case of men accused of breaking her jaw in seven places. The accused walked free, leaving Gail more vengeful than ever before. I’d have been keen to watch a follow-up but the channel’s been more or less scrapped so this may never happen. Never mind, I’ll busy myself with Wodehouse romp Blandings on BBC1. The pig is loose again and Lord Emsworth is furious. Stop, my sides are splitting.

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