Journalist, Producer & Researcher

Thursday, 25 August 2011

The English Defence League-The new wave of extremism in Britian

Clampdown on Britain's far-right movement the English Defence League is needed before Britain witnesses an Anders Breivik style attack.

As the news emerged that the man behind the Oslo attacks was Anders Breivik, a Christian, Norwegian right-wing extremist, hundreds across the world immediately expressed their shock and wonder as to what led Breivik to commit such acts.

As it was discovered that Breivik had links and was influenced by Britain’s most notorious far-right movement, the English Defence League (EDL), discussions and attention turned to the EDL and right-wing extremism as policy-makers and politicians assured the public only a minority of individuals in Britain hold such views.

However, this is far from the case. Shockingly enough, a large percentage of British individuals hold similar views on Islam and are sympathetic to the EDL’s cause.

The English Defence League (EDL)

The EDL is a far-right street protest movement which burst into the scene in 2009. The group which claims to oppose Islamist extremism have been at the forefront of damaging cohesion in communities across Britain. Although the EDL have stated that they’re against Islamist extremism and not Islam, their protests and targets have been areas where there are large populations of Muslims. Members of the EDL have also been involved in creating public disorder by attacking mosques and inciting fear and hatred in communities across Britain.

Sympathy for the EDL?

I grew up outside Britain. My first professional employment in England was in an administrative role in a very multicultural environment. It astonished me to find that many people had limited knowledge on other cultures and religions other than their own, particularly Islam and Muslims.

As I discovered more about the EDL, I was even more astonished to find that a lot of young individuals considered this organisation to be part of British culture and were sympathetic to their views and actions. As I dug deeper to gain some understanding as to why anyone could hold such views (I was under the impression that British people had a high level of tolerance for diversity and Islam), I realised their influence was coming from media outlets such as the Daily Mail and The Sun which have been strong adherents of the anti-Islam movement in Britain.

The Poppy burning event that took place on Remembrance Day 2010 by thirty Muslim individuals, under an extremist group Muslim Against Crusaders, resulted in my Facebook page being filled with anti-Islam posts such as “Muslims go home,’’ ‘‘Muslims if you don’t like our country, go back to your own,’’ ignoring the fact that half of those involved in the poppy burning demonstration in London were a tiny minority and probably born and bred in Britain. Where could they go home to exactly?

But it wasn’t just my Facebook page that I was seeing such comments. An article posted shortly after the incident , showed that approximately 240, 000 UK Facebook users posted bigotry comments in response to the incident such as ‘‘rageheads Pakis,’’ ‘‘filthy Muslims’’ and “save a poppy burn a Muslim.’’ These were read and reposted by hundreds worldwide.

Tolerance and Diversity

Not all British people hold such views. There are a lot of people who believe in diversity, freedom of speech and share the principles of tolerance and multiculturalism. Sadly enough, I’ve found that those who don’t are usually from deprived communities, uneducated and ignorant to the extent that they’ve relied on right-wing media outlets to understand Islam and Britain.

While these individuals may not be extreme enough to attend an EDL demonstration or carry acts such as Breivik, sympathising with the cause is enough for politicians and law enforcement officers to be worried. As Mathew Goodwin, a researcher into right-wing extremism at the University of Nottingham points out:

‘‘The electoral rise of far right parties across Europe in recent years has been much noticed. But the far right is also shifting toward a more confrontational, violent strategy. Many militants have concluded that the far right politicians sitting in parliaments across Europe have failed to stop immigration, and that the ballot box cannot stem the growth of Muslim communities. For angry white men such as Breivik, only violence is left.’’

Right-Wing Extremism vs. Islamist Extremism

While over £60m have been spent on combating Islamist extremism under a controversial Preventing Extremism programme, it is time for another £60m to deal with this emerging right-wing extremism threat.

And policy-makers are now realising this as the focus from Islamist extremism and Muslims shifts to right-wing extremism and underprivileged British ‘white’ born youths. Already the ground-breaking Channel project, which has focused on Islamist extremism, has been widely expanded to spot those who may be at risk of being radicalised by groups such as the EDL. According to reporter Sam Chadderton, authorities in Lancashire have been receiving a number of referrals from adults concerning children who may be influenced by right-wing views. And just last week, a 25,000 signature petition has been handed to the Scotland Yard calling for the police to ban an EDL march scheduled to take place the 3rd September in Tower Hamlets, a largely Muslim populated area. Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron has also been at the forefront of condemning the motives of the EDL by labeling its members as ‘sick.’

The £60 million invested into preventing Islamist extremism across Britain may have succeeded to engage and empower Muslim communities to the extent that the threat has now been reduced. However, in the process, the far-right has been allowed to prosper and gain in numbers. It’s now time for counter-terrorism efforts to focus on combating right-wing extremism before Britain witnesses its very own Anders Breivik style attack.

First Published by Suite 101: 

Copyright Reyhana Patel. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication. 

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