Another weekend, another EDL protest in a city in England. This time it is Peterborough and early reports suggests that despite the heavy police presence, the 500 plus tattooed protesters screaming out anti-Muslim invective engaged in several acts of violence and there were several arrests.
In mid-2009, when the English Defence League was formed, it comprised a disparate group of football thugs at a loose end when not beating each other up on match days. Everyone expected them to get bored and wander off to the nearest pub but here we are 18 months and 20 violent demonstrations later and the EDL seems to be going from strength to strength.
There are some in the Muslim and wider community who are quite unfazed by the EDL; their reasoning is that we have always had some violent football hooligans in the UK and they have simply shifted their dead-eyed gaze from ‘Pakis’ to Muslims, so no change there... apparently. However, a recent radio documentary for the BBC Asian Network called ‘Who’s afraid of the EDL’ has put paid to this idea.
Anyone listening to the documentary would never again be able to accept the EDL rhetoric that they are not against all Muslims, just ‘extremist’ ones. It is entirely clear that the only Muslims deemed acceptable by the EDL are those whose lifestyles and actions are so distant from Islam that they are no longer recognisable as Muslims. This point was reiterated last month in a Radio 5 Live interview with Stephen Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson), the leader of the EDL, in which he stated that “The root cause of the problem is Islam. It’s the Quran”.
The EDL’s definition of an ‘extremist’, therefore, is a Muslim who believes that the Quran is the unaltered word of Allah; just as its definition of a ‘moderate’ is someone who feels that the Quran can be jettisoned from Islam if it is deemed too non-PC at any particular time.
Indeed, Guramit Singh - the Beavis to Tommy Robinson’s Butthead - waxes lyrical about how as a Sikh he is uniquely placed to fight Islam because he follows in the footsteps of many Sikh gurus who fought the Moghuls in India. Quite what the Guru Gobind Singh (who compared the cutting of a Sikh’s man’s hair with incest, and declared any Sikh who did so an apostate) would make of the beardless, bald Guramit is anyone’s guess.
Aside from exposing the real nature of the EDL, which many of us suspected anyway, the documentary also interviews EDL expert Dr Matthew Goodwin, a lecturer from the University of Nottingham.
Goodwin notes that the EDL’s current modus operandi of bussing in protestors to hold violent demonstrations has not been seen in the UK on such a scale for the last 40 years. He also pointed out that the EDL’s current strengthening of ties with right wing US groups like the Tea Party, as well as fringe elements like the Quran-burning Pastor Terry Jones (whom the EDL has invited to speak at a rally next year), is completely unprecedented in the history of the UK’s far right. He warns that as these ties deepen, allowing the EDL to gain access to the resources, planning and finances available to the right wing in the US, the EDL will become an even greater force to be reckoned with.
The police, who are already struggling to cope with the demonstrations, have had their resources stretched further with the EDL now utilising ‘flash mobs’. This is where a local division arranges a protest (usually in front of a mosque or halal takeaway or school) on short notice, typically via text message and using a social networking platform, enabling the mob to arrive en masse, with the constabulary playing catch up. One senior police officer is quoted as saying that ‘we never expected them to still be going 18 months on’. In an era of severe cuts to public services that are anticipated to bite in the coming months, one wonders about the ability of the police (with fewer resources) to control the EDL.
The popularity of the EDL is not limited to the 1,000 or so football thugs that regularly turn up to its demonstrations. It takes great pains to show its commitment to diversity that has become a bit more sophisticated than its initial attempts, where the mob would stop “Sieg Heiling” for five minutes and trot out the only black and brown men on the demonstration, kiss them in public whilst drunkenly slurring about how much they love ‘pakis’ and ‘blacks’. Their main Facebook page is ‘liked’ by nearly 65,000 people and they boast of having a groundswell of diverse support including a Jewish Division, a Pakistani Christian Division, a Sikh Division, a Homosexual Division, as well as nearly 900 serving military personnel who are fully paid up members. They assert that the support among squaddies runs deep, with a spokeswoman for the EDL, whose husband is a serving soldier, claiming that: ‘The soldiers are fighting Islamic extremism in Afghanistan and Iraq and the EDL are fighting it here… Not all the armed forces support the English Defence League but a majority do.’
So there we have it: a veritable army of violence-prone, anti-Muslim thugs, coupled with a police force with a diminishing ability to cope. When this is played out against a backdrop of shocking Islamophobic rhetoric spewed forth by a cabal of right wing newspapers and journalists (as we and many, many others have reported on in the past), we can see that British society has a definite ‘situation’ on its hands.
A quick word to those who labour under the misconception that whilst our press is robust, it is also regulated. It should be pointed out that the media industry, which informs the opinions and decisions of the vast majority of people in this country, is policed by that most craven, gutless and toothless of watchdogs, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). The PCC is entirely funded by the industry it seeks to regulate, a situation that has been described as the mafia running the local police station. It lacks any sort of legal power, makes all of its decisions in secret and, because it is not constituted as a public body under freedom of information legislation, its actions cannot be scrutinised by anyone except itself.
It should come as no surprise that a recent report, launched just 2 weeks ago by the European Muslim Research Centre (EMRC) based at Exeter University, about Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crimes, showed that not only are Muslims targeted in racist and anti-immigrant street violence that has been ongoing since the 1960s, they are now experiencing increased levels of violence, threats and intimidation aimed at them specifically because of their religion.
This has led several Islamophobes to accuse Muslims of being whingers complaining about an entirely fabricated problem, on the basis that the reported numbers of anti-Muslim hate crimes are low compared with, for example, anti-Semitic hate crimes. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, the Jewish community has an extremely well organised and well funded organisation called the Community Security Trust, which encourages, enables and facilitates the accurate and speedy reporting of any hate crime suffered by Jews in this country. It also produces a slick, glossy annual report which is circulated widely among MPs, journalists and other opinion makers. Ethnic minorities (of which Muslims form a substantial part) on the other hand have always traditionally under-reported hate crime, whether it was Paki-bashing in the 1960s or Muslim-bashing in the 2010s, there has been a reluctance to approach the police. This is understandable against the backdrop of a 70% increase in the rates of police ‘stop and search’ within the Asian population.
But, never fear! Help is at hand in the form of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia, launched on 25 November 2010. At its inaugural meeting, members (who include the niqab-allergic Jack Straw) waxed lyrical about their deep desire to do right by the Muslim community. The Muslim lobby group, iEngage, was to serve as the secretariat for the group with the expectation that it would ensure that the worries, concerns and expectations of the British Muslim community were not lost on the inhabitants of the Westminster village. Well, iEngage was going to be the secretariat of the group until it fell foul of the beady glare of one of the UK’s most anti-Muslim journalists: Andrew Gilligan.
For those who don’t quite remember anything else about Gilligan aside from some vague recollections about a sexed up dossier, 45 minutes and Dr David Kelly,former London Mayor Ken Livingstone sums it up nicely: “Basically what Gilligan did was what has destroyed so many otherwise good coppers, they’ve caught a criminal but they haven’t got the evidence, so they falsify the evidence. If Gilligan hadn’t distorted what Kelly had said, grossly exaggerated it, Kelly would be alive today.”
Despite his protestations to the contrary, Gilligan is finding it difficult to distance himself from this. Mehdi Hasan has also done a masterful job in dissecting Andrew Gilligan’s many character flaws in his excellent article, ‘The Truth about Andrew Gilligan’. It is also telling that Gilligan is becoming the favourite journalist of the EDL.
These days, Gilligan seems to be channelling the spirit of the paranoid 1960s General Douglas MacArthur, although Gilligan is seeing ‘Islamists’ rather than ‘Reds’ under his bed. On his Telegraph blog, Gilligan described iEngage’s link with this All Party Committee as an ‘Islamist bridgehead into Parliament’. That was enough to put the wind up several MPs, who insisted that iEngage should be sacked from the committee.
So there we have it. The first decision of the All Party Parliamentary Group into Islamophobia is to respond to a witch-hunt by one of the country’s leading anti-Muslim journalists by sacking its secretariat, which was one of the few things lending it any credibility in the first place. One can only wonder why, when there is such a large and obvious Islamophobic problem as the EDL, along with the right wing hate mongers in the press, is there any need for a navel gazing, All Party Parliamentary Group to endlessly prevaricate and pontificate over it.
A beefing up of the Press Complaints Commission’s legal rights, in addition to making it properly independent and transparent would have solved at least half the problem. The other half could be solved by a more effective use of the police in preventing the EDL from marching and screaming out its incitement in predominantly Muslim areas. This excellent article written by a journalist arrested during the 1980s miners’ strikes points out that when the government has a will to crush a movement, it can very effectively deploy the police in order to do so.
Moreover, the stifling of the freedom to protest can easily be justified given the clear link between activities of the EDL and recruitment by violent Islamic extremists. Conversely, whenever Muslims’ protest in an offensive way - such as the recent poppy burning debacle - there is a sharp rise in the membership and activities of the EDL. With this vicious cycle of two extremes feeding off each other, one can see that the usual exemption of freedom of speech (i.e. ‘yelling fire in a crowded theatre’) pales into insignificance when what these two groups are trying to do is set fire to a whole society.
Ignoring the EDL hasn’t worked. If anything, it has metamorphosed from a drunken rabble into an organised, uniformed quasi-military force, their black shirts eerily echoing the brown shirts of the Hitler youth, whose membership went on to become the core of the Nazi army. No one should be deceived into thinking that this is a rag-tag bunch of unemployed football hooligans; in fact, they are the foot soldiers of an orchestrated movement, as explained by the businessman architect of their strategy, Alan Lake. What Lake has done is to provide a broad, networked platform that links pseudo-intellectuals like Daniel Pipes and Robert Spencer (seen as the brains that can win the arguments) with the tattooed thug that is the brawn that will hammer these arguments home:
“We have got people out there who can win these arguments, people like Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes, Brigitte Gabriel.”
“Another strategy we're trying to do in the UK, is reach out to more physical groups like football fans, get them involved. Well actually they're contacting us, because they're concerned, and these are people who are happy to go out on the street. I mean your average intellectual is happy typing on his PC, but we've reached the end of that road. You're not going to get a fat lot more mileage out of that... So if you can engage with the physical groups, people who are quite happy to go on the street, the thing about the football fans is they go see a match, and then after the match, they're already there on the street, so if you can then bring them off for a demo that works really well. You get the numbers. And they're not scared as well. Everybody else is scared of being beaten up and attacked. They're not scared of that.”
Now, more than ever, the All Party Parliamentary Group must prove that it is not some over funded talking shop and that it takes serious and effective measures against what has to be one of the most pressing problems within Cameron’s big society. Ask any Muslim, and you will find that there has been an astonishing rise in the number of hate crimes directed against Muslims, both as individuals and institutions, like mosques and schools. By the mercy of Allah, most of the attacks against mosques have been poorly planned and executed and have not resulted in any loss of life or injury, but how long will it be before a mosque is effectively targeted and there are injuries and fatalities? This rubicon will signal the beginning of the end of our society as we know it and when it starts to spiral out of control, all that politicians will be able to do is lament that they didn’t do something sooner.
"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." (Edmund Burke)
“Whoever among you sees an evil, then let him change it with his hand; if he cannot, then with his tongue; and if he cannot, then with his heart – and that is the weakest of faith.”
(Prophet Muhammad, sallallaahu alayhi wasallam, peace be upon him)