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Books on Islamophobia were among titles targeted by a group of right wing protesters who attacked a Socialist bookshop in central London in 4th of August. The mob, chanting ‘alt right’ slogans and bearing placards saying ‘Make Britain Great Again’, entered Bookmarks bookshop near the British Museum, damaged books and made threatening remarks to the staff, suggesting that the shop should be “burned down”. Some of them wielded baseball bats and one was wearing a Donald Trump mask.
Since the attack, the UK Independence Party – which has campaigned strongly for Britain’s departure from the EU – has suspended three of its members who were involved in the incident.
About 12 men entered the shop and began being offensive to staff. They tore up issues of Unite magazine, an anti-racist publication, and accused the shop of being anti-Semitic for stocking The Jewish Question by Belgian Jewish Trotskyist Abraham Leon, even though he died in the Holocaust.
Manager David Gilchrist said it was a frightening – and worrying – experience. “We said, ‘We’re a bookshop, will you quietly browse, we’re not a speakers’ corner or a debating society; if you object to the books then don’t buy them’.” To remove the gang from the shop Halifax said he and his colleague resorted to ringing the customer hand-bell repeatedly as “a warning to get out”, which alerted the shop next door, which in turn called the police. By the time the police arrived, however, the group had left.
He added: “There was another bookshop attack four or five months ago. I don’t think it is particularly coordinated. I think because of the whole Trump alt-right thing, people like this feel empowered by it and feel confidence in saying and acting on things they wouldn’t have done before. It’s the general atmosphere we’re living in.”
Meryl Halls, Chief Executive of the UK Booksellers Association, issued a strong statement in support. “It’s appalling and shocking that this attack has happened now, at a point where we need bookshops, and all they stand for, more than ever”, she said.
“Bookshops should be safe spaces, and are very often the refuge of the oppressed, the fearful and those looking for guidance at difficult times; they are special places for so many reasons, and should never find themselves on the receiving end of hate-filled, violent outpouring. They are also the locus for community, and we know that the bookselling community itself has already rallied round Bookmarks on social media, pledging support and expressing outrage at what has happened. Added to the cowardly attack earlier this year on Gay’s the Word Bookshop, also in central London, these attacks are a worrying sign of growing polarization and intolerance in our society, and we must do all we can to stem it.”
On a happier note, the shop has been inundated with messages of support and donations, and is now planning a “solidarity event” with authors in the store on 11 August.