As the English Defence League (EDL) headed to Birmingham on Saturday to exploit the Westminster terrorist attack (just as it exploited the murder of Lee Rigby) it’s worth reflecting on the symbiosis of far right movement who are supposedly opposed to one another.
Just as different groups of football hooligans, who claim to ‘support’ different teams, need one another, to have some sense of meaning and an excuse to fight, far right groups apparently at loggerheads need one another too.
They feed off those they claim to oppose, and those they claim to protect
Take for instance the relationship between far-right groups like the EDL and Britain First with Islamist extremists, whose actual goals differ from their skinhead rivals only cosmetically. This could be regarded as a symbiosis – or it could even be a parasitic relationship. The EDL and Britain First not only feed off the narrow reality of extremism but also off general Islamophobia and xenophobia – they feed off those they claim to oppose, and those they claim to protect.
There are some controversial aspects to the above paragraph, which may raise some eyebrows. Many supporters of both the EDL and Britain First would deny their groups are far-right. Furthermore, some in far-right groups would recoil at the idea that groups like Daesh (the so-called Islamic State) are also far-right in nature.
We hear claims of ‘protecting’ women. But this claim looks flimsy when there is no evidence of them tackling white and non-Muslim sex offenders
However, if we consider the narratives underpinning such groups, the reality is plain to see. This raises alarming questions about how they – between them and with other far-right movements – not only create division within society but also push politics to the right. I am not suggesting that, like football hooligans, ragtag extremist cults phone each other to plot trouble. However, simple-minded hard-right ‘us and them’ narratives do slither into mainstream politics, as we have seen in Trump’s US and elsewhere.
Common features of far-right movements include nativism, nationalism (often combined with Islamophobia), dogmatism, fear of the extinction of one’s ethnic group, anti-rationalism, anti-liberalism and authoritarianism. From some groups, we hear claims of ‘protecting’ women from oppression. But this claim looks flimsy in male-dominated movements, especially when there is no evidence of them tackling white and non-Muslim sex offenders. Conspiracy theories abound in far-right groups, as do narratives about curtailing civil rights.
Overtly racist far-right groups in the UK, like the National Front, the British National Party and National Action have been pushed further to the fringes. Since publicly expressing support for white supremacist Thomas Mair’s assassination of MP Jo Cox, the young Nazi group National Action has been proscribed as a terror group and banned in the UK.
EDL demonstrators like to march drunk, as though it’s 1980 and they are skinheads throwing their weight around on a bank holiday seafront
The older white supremacist groups began to fade decades ago, to a large extent because it became widely unacceptable to be racist bigots. However, in part due to the actions of far-right Jihadi terrorists, quite a lot of people still find it acceptable to express hatred of Muslims, and seem more likely to get away with inciting hatred along religious lines than they would if focusing on ‘racial’ characteristics.
The typical response when criticized for inciting division in this way is to say things like “But Islam isn’t a race”. True, but it just so happens that most Muslims in the UK are not white. It is also a reality that the vast majority of British Muslims are law abiding citizens. That is more than can be said for some of the key antagonists behind both the EDL and Britain First.
So, on Saturday, despite much local opposition, the EDL struck while the iron was hot, playing on a tragedy and fears, and intending to march through Birmingham. Many EDL demonstrators like to march drunk, as though they think it’s 1980 and they are skinheads throwing their weight around on a bank holiday seafront. That didn’t seem to strengthen them when a local, Saffiyah Khan, faced them off from intimidating a woman in a hijab, captured in a photograph that has since gone viral.
The EDL and Britain First are not fighting terrorism at all: they are leeching off it in the hope of getting a bit of status and perverting the national discourse
When the EDL invaded Birmingham in 2013, they rioted and local people fled in fear. I know of at least one school trip that had to take shelter in a municipal building to avoid the marauding mob of yobs, some of whom were doing Nazi salutes.
Many EDL marchers aren’t getting any younger, but it is possible they will resort to that thuggish behavior again. However, what they want to do – but I don’t think they will achieve – is create division in our society. The people of Birmingham and beyond know that the EDL is there to exploit murders, and few will be taken in.
It is intelligence services, military personnel and, critically, Muslims around the world, who are at the forefront of the fight against violent extremism. The EDL and Britain First are not fighting it at all, they are leeching off it in the hope of getting a bit of status and perverting the political consciousness of a nation. However, the hard truth is that getting drunk, shouting drivel and driving families from our cities does absolutely nothing to fight terror. It just adds to it.
Will Black is the author of Psychopathic Cultures and Toxic Empires, now available in the USA and UK.
Image: Stacy Bias