BY ALEXANDER MELEAGROU-HITCHENS
The recent emergence of the English Defence League (EDL) is the inevitable outcome of the failure of a government to properly address Islamic extremism topped off with good old fashioned British hooliganism and bigotry. The involvement of groups like the EDL in working against Islamic extremism serves to give ammunition to those who already claim that all anti-Islamists are racists at heart.
My co-blogger, Michael Burleigh, claimed yesterday that the English Defence League had no demonstrable connections with the British National Party. I would have to disagree with this, as I am aware of at least two. Firstly, as revealed by the Times, the EDL’s web designer is none other than Chris Renton, who also acts as the BNP’s ‘web guy’. The indispensable Searchlight Magazine have also identified another BNP member at the heart of EDL operations, Davy Cooling, who they claim is an activist for the EDL’s Luton wing. Despite this, the EDL insist they do not support the BNP and are not a racist organisation. It is also important to consider at this point that two of the country’s nastiest racist groups were present at the EDL demonstrations in Luton. According to the Blood and Honour (a UK neo-Nazi group formed in the 1980s) online forum, a number of its members attended the EDL’s Luton protests (screen shots of this closed forum are in my possession) and Searchlight make the claim that a member of the National Front had also attended.
Although unlikely, the EDL’s rejection of accusations of racism and BNP support may be genuine (it is difficult to prove this beyond any doubt), but charges levelled at them as being anti-Muslim bigots will be far more difficult to swat away. In a recent interview (45 seconds into the below video – try your best to ignore terror apologist Salma Yaqoob) with talkSport radio, EDL spokesman Paul Ray admitted that they are not only protesting against Islamic extremists, but in fact the EDL’s beef is with ‘all devout Muslims’. Similarly the BNP’s Nick Griffin has also made accusations that all Muslims who devoutly follow their religion are by definition a threat to this country and Europe.
Incidentally, EDL spokesman Paul Ray is also the pro BNP blogger known as Lionheart.
This is no way to approach a very serious issue, and in fact makes the job of liberals who do recognise the problem many times harder. As it stands, and with only a handful of notable exceptions, the subject of Islamic extremism is only being properly dealt with by people and organisations considered to be ‘right wing’. It therefore becomes all too easy for those who (somehow unashamedly) call themselves part of the left and have allied with Islamists, to accuse people of being far right racists if they dare to identify Islamism as a problematic ideology (at a recent Stop the War Coalition event Lindsey German made this very accusation). The recent adoption of the cause against Islamic extremism by the far right simply feeds into already established perceptions of anti-Islamists that exist among Islamists and their apologists, and allows their scurrilous accusations to be taken mildly seriously.
Whereas progressives are able to make the distinction between a devout Muslim and an extremist or an Islamist, the BNP and EDL insist on the rather patronising assumption that whether a practicing Muslim likes it or not, they are an extremist. This is based on a very simplistic understanding of the core texts of Islam which discounts 1400 years of interpretation and scholarship and ignores the possibility that, rather than forever seeking to convert or kill all of us, the vast majority of Muslims follow their faith in a private and personal manner.
Within the world of anti-jihadism, there is a clear divide between those who consider all Muslims to be a threat and those who understand that the problem lies within a small but very influential section of the Islamic world. Siding with the former should not be an option as it requires a total disavowal and abandonment of liberal and pluralist values based solely on the basis of a mutual foe.
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