A British far-right group that goes by the name English Defence League (EDL) is raising fears of a long hot summer in the UK. It is looking to target some of the UK's highest-profile Muslim communities such as Bradford and the London borough of Tower Hamlets.
In reference to Bradford, an EDL spokesman said the demo "will be huge" and added "The problem with Bradford is the security threat, it is a highly populated Muslim area. They are very militant as well. Bradford is a place that has got to be hit."
EDL' representations of its organization as non-violent, non-racist and non-Nazi is in large part BS. Journalists who have attended its demos have plenty of evidence that makes a joke out of the EDL claim. Code terms such as the requirement that members accept the 'English way of life' reflects the xenophobic attitudes that lie under the surface.
A Guardian journalist who attended EDL demos while making an undercover film for the Guardian's investigative film unit, got a glimpse of the what went on at first hand: "I was confronted by casual – often brutal – racism, a widespread hatred of Muslims and often the threat of violence."
The same reporter attended an EDL gathering prior to a demo in Stoke. About 3,000 people turned up. The reporter describes the scene inside the pub: "The balcony around the top of the cavernous pub was draped in flags bearing the names of different football clubs – Wolves, Newcastle, Aston Villa – and the chants "We all hate Muslims" and "Muslim bombers off our streets" filled the air."
Outside the reporter was asked by a woman for a donation to support "the heroes coming from from Afghanistan." When the reporter obliged, she said: "They go over there and fight for this country and then come back to be faced with these Pakis everywhere... But to be honest it is the niggers I can't stand."
EDL demo in Newcastle on May 29 2010
This type of casual racism isn't hard to find in the ranks of the EDL. In addition to football hooligans, it attracts elements from right-wing extremist groups, including Combat 18.
The English Defence League, which started in Luton last year, has become the most significant far-right street movement in the UK since the National Front in the 1970s. A Guardian investigation has identified a number of known rightwing extremists who are taking an interest in the movement – from convicted football hooligans to members of violent rightwing splinter groups.
Thousands of people have attended its protests – many of which have descended into violence and racist and Islamophobic chanting. Supporters are split into "divisions" spread across the UK and as many as 3,000 people are attracted to its protests.
The Guardian article also notes that the EDL is drawing support from the armed forces. The EDL's online armed forces division has 842 members and the group claims many serving soldiers have attended its meetings. One of the reasons for this is without doubt the Luton connection. In March 2009 a protest was organized by Al-Muhajiroun and members of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah to protest returning Royal Anglican Regiment troops from Afghanistan. The EDL originated from a group called the United Peoples of Luton that was formed in reaction to the Muslim protest.
Wherever the EDL goes, counter-groups such as Unite Against Fascism (UAF) are not far behind. There have been a number of clashes between the EDL and UAF, for example in Birmingham in August of 2009 when 35 people were arrested. There was also a clash with socialist protesters in Birmingham that resulted in 90 arrests.
The EDL claim that it isn't racist or violent is cosmetic at best. John Denham, one-time UK communities secretary said of the EDL "If you look at the types of demonstrations they have organised, the language used and the targets chosen, it looks pretty clear that it's a tactic designed to provoke, to get a response and create violence."
Nick Lowles of the anti-fascist group Searchlight believes that groups such as the EDL are having a growing and dangerous influence in the UK:
What we are seeing is more organised fringe elements – the National Front, old networks of Combat 18 people and members of the BNP – who are getting involved specifically to try and use the EDL to spark serious disorder," says Lowles. "This is a serious development; we just need one of these demonstrations to go wrong – for there to be a serious incident – and it won't just lead to disorder in Dudley, Bolton or wherever, it will spread to towns and cities across the country".
Link also to two Guardian articles here and here - Guardian video here - YouTube