It was about three quarters of the way through working as a flyerer at the Edinburgh Fringe and I was fully installed in my arty, liberal, middle class bubble; (very cosy, yet a hair’s breadth away from bursting). At the Fringe, any topical debates I had that might’ve felt meaty at that time slowly revealed themselves to be an exchange of agreeing opinions said with ever increasing volume. I hadn’t had to feel a fully binary culture clash for a while. It was strangely necessary.
I literally fell into my short encounter with Steve, a member of the Scottish Defence League. Flyering in Edinburgh, at least trying to quickly, is hard. To boost my presence on the thickly populated strip, I moved my arms in a flamboyant arc or got down on one knee to deliver the flyers into the hands of people passing by; it worked well. Getting down on one knee one afternoon, is when I literally fell.
While recoiling from the quite dramatic buckle, I heard laughter emanating from the grassy patch to my right. Trying to feign some humility, I approached the group, waving a flyer for an evening of songs from Film Noir. They responded quite well to me mustering enthusiasm out of my embarrassment. After listening to my brief pitch for the show, the most vocal of them, Steve, asked me whether I had heard of the SDL.
I nodded. He then pulled a Scottish flag out of his pocket and walked towards me.
“Isn’t it great that we have freedom of speech in this country.”, “Isn’t it great that me and you can have a conversation about whatever, and they can’t do anything”. With these words came a cloud of sweet alcohol vapour. I was a little hesitant. However, I agreed with what he said essentially, and felt that leaving would leave him feeling victorious, proving the champagne socialist’s lack of mettle in real world confrontations.
What followed was a exchange of fluid statistics, and emotion based beliefs; from both parties. Steve, an ex soldier, spat out the usual islamaphobic vitriol, centering around fear of being taken over by Sharia Law or his daughter being taken by a Muslim paedophile ring. I returned with statistics that proved that white Christians were disproportionately perpetrators of acts of terror in Europe. Each of his points was buried with ever more forceful fingers into my chest; quite unsubtle intimidation. I tried to present a jocular, composed front through this, still determined that he not feel the upper hand.
We did eventually find a common enemy; the media. We both agreed that most outlets stir both panic and distraction because of their respective political agendas – not in those words exactly, but basically that. This common ground wasn’t quite firm enough for me to set up camp. I had become bored with the cyclical arguing. I had to find a way of getting out of this conversation without losing face.
The way I removed myself from what had become a pretty uncomfortable situation, was by exploiting a weird meta-coincidence. A film crew were collecting stories on the nearby pathway. While they were filming a flyering friend of mine, a far drunker friend of Steve’s jumped in front of the camera with his SDL flag. My half Maori friend bolted, and I then beckoned the film crew over and insisted that they talk to Steve. As they approached tentatively I smiled and said “Isn’t it great that we have free speech in this country?”, “Isn’t it great that you guys can have this conversation?”.
[Jonah Sealey Braverman for EVILTWINLDN]