Can Europe Make It?

‘Tit for tat’ extremism and the rise of far right anti-Muslim movements in the UK

Visibly Muslim females were the subject of anti-Muslim hate and elderly Muslim men and women going about their daily business have also been subjected to fear, intimidation and abuse.

Fiyaz Mughal
5 September 2014
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Britain First await sentencing of Lee Rigby killers at the Old Bailey. Guy Corbishley/Demotix. All rights reserved.

Cumulative extremism is a term increasingly used to describe the kind of ‘tit for tat’ approach leading to the development of one of the most aggressive forms of far right extremism that England has witnessed in the last decade, after the demise of the British National Party. The English Defence League (EDL), an extreme far right street protest movement, developed in 2009 after a homecoming parade of soldiers returning from Iraq was harangued by Al-Muhajiroun members. Placards with the words ‘child murderers’ and other inflammatory statements led to minor disorder on the day, though what emerged from that event was a group of hooded far right activists, one of whom was later identified as the leader of the group, Stephen Yaxley Lennon. They were to become one of the most ardent anti-Islam and anti-Muslim groups and one which campaigned to marginalise, caricature and bestialise Muslim communities within the country.

The development of EDL itself can be traced back to cumulative extremism. But one of the clearest examples of this phenomenon of cumulative extremism came in the form of six individuals whose actions resembled those in the film, the Four Lions. The six individuals took a home-made bomb to an EDL rally in Dewsbury in 2012 and were only caught when a routine traffic stop found that they did not have valid insurance on their vehicle. These young men were clearly affected by the actions of the English Defence League which led them to try and take violent action against the group at the EDL rally. The six were collectively sentenced to over 100 years in jail.

The EDL which formed after the 2009 homecoming parade, fast understood the power of the internet and used Facebook and Twitter as recruiting tools to play on fears of extremism and terrorism. They targeted Islam and Muslims as potential fifth columnists in England, even though Muslim communities have settled in the UK for over 60 years. At their peak, the EDL mobilised thousands of people and demonstrations sometimes led to violent disorder such as that which took place in Stoke in 2010. Furthermore, major national incidents like the murder of drummer Lee Rigby, led to an apparent surge in support for the EDL with a huge rise in Facebook ‘likes’ and a large demonstration in Birmingham in July 2013 which led to further disorder, with policing costs rocketing to keep up with the frequency of the protests.

At rallies, the EDL tried to maintain the veneer that it was against extremism, yet, chants of ‘Allah is a paedo’ (paedophile) and other inflammatory statements were made. Visibly Muslim females were the subject of anti-Muslim hate and elderly Muslim men and women going about their daily business were also subjected to fear, intimidation and abuse. The group had, in effect, attracted some of the most extreme and violent far right activists who joined the EDL as a form of cover for their extreme views. This was later highlighted in the statement made by the founder of the EDL, Stephen Yaxley Lennon, as one of the reasons for his exit from the group.

Impacts of the far right & anti-Muslim hatred

Whilst the greatest threat to the United Kingdom remains from groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda, the far right and its impact on extremism and community relations cannot be underestimated. The real threat from far right groups comes in the following forms.

Firstly, they create the climate and mood music for individuals to think that Muslims are a threat to the United Kingdom and to target them whether on-line or at street level. After the murder of Lee Rigby in May 2013, within 12 weeks of the murder, over 35 mosques in England and Wales were attacked. In April 2013, far right Neo-Nazi, Pavlo Lapshyn murdered Birmingham based Mohammed Saleem on his way back from prayers, stabbing him to death. His spree of chaos and fear did not end with the murder and he went on to place nail bombs at three mosques in Tipton, Walsall and Wolverhampton, one of the bombs going off.

Detailed work by the TELL MAMA national Islamophobia monitoring project has also highlighted the high numbers of English Defence League and far right sympathisers involved in abuse and attacks on Muslims. These are in the following reports of 2012/2013 and 2013/2014.

Secondly, another threat emanating from far right movements is their pull towards disaffected young males, some of whom are looking for an outlet to vent their anger and to rail against their economic and social situations. Many of these are radicalised and brainwashed, with some ending up undertaking violent actions. Thirdly, there is the very real threat of intimidation and the climate of fear that such groups whip up which is best demonstrated by the recent actions of Britain First.

Britain First

The demise of the EDL after the exit of Yaxley Lennon left a vacuum and the splintering of the EDL has also meant that more aggressive and hard-line groups such as Britain First have come to the forefront to try and fill the social space. Britain First’s strategy has been to aggressively target mosques and hand out leaflets suggesting that grooming is a ‘Muslim’ issue and that Muslims need to police themselves, or (and their actions against mosques confirm this), there is the looming threat of some form of physical violence against them from Britain First’s supporters. So active has the strategy been to enter mosques and harass mostly elderly worshippers that the Home Office and regional police forces have been looking for relevant pieces of legislation so that arrests of the group can be made. An infographic of their activities shows that they have traversed England and Scotland with the sole aim of harassing and intimidating mosque worshippers.

The future is therefore one which is becoming increasingly complex, given that threats of extremist groups not only include those such as ISIS or Al Qaeda, but also home grown extremist groups such as the now banned Al-Muhajiroun and far right groups like Britain First. Furthermore, just because the EDL has lost its momentum does not mean sympathisers have had a ‘damascene’ moment and seen the error of their ways. Many are looking for other outlets on which to vent their anti-Muslim rage, whilst others carry on believing that the greatest threat to the UK are Muslim communities. How far some of these will act against Muslim communities should be a worry for us all.

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