British police are investigating links between Anders Breivik and the English Defence League, a group the gunman described as a ‘blessing’ in an online forum.
But is the nationalist group no more than a blip on the fringes of society, or is it part of a larger movement threatening to destabilise multiculturalism in Europe?
Mohammed and his brother were in the wrong place at the wrong time. On a rainy Saturday afternoon in Chadwell Heath, East London, last month, the two came across an EDL march.
Both brothers ended up in hospital. Mohammed’s cheekbone was fractured in four places and he has had to put a metal plate in his cheek. As the 27-year-old says: “I was surrounded by a pack of wolves”.
“There was a march, the EDL had marched past our house and they were going to a local mosque in protest of it receiving planning permission.
“As we passed them, there were various inappropriate words used. We got ahead of them and they, one person in particular charged towards us, hurling abuse and swearing. They surrounded us and next thing you knew someone had attacked my brother, I was attacked as well. I was punched and kicked to the floor. I tried to get away but it wasn't possible.
"I don't know how long I was down on the floor for. I tried to block the punches and kicks, but you can only do so much when you are surrounded. In the end other kids formed a barrier between us and them. I was put on a bus and told to escape. I didn't know where my brother was, I didn't know whether he was alive or dead.
"I had a nosebleed, my arms were numb, my face was swollen, I had bruises across my body and my head and jacket were covered in blood. I had my cheekbone broken, fractured in four places and now I have had two metal plates in my cheek."
What makes Mohammed’s story important isn’t just the emotional impact his violent beating had on him or his family. It’s the wider implication for ethnic minorities, who are increasingly becoming targets of hateful ideologies as fascist movements such as the EDL gain momentum across Europe. And it is these movements Breivik is said to have been associated with.
Dr Robert Lambert, co-director of the European Muslim Research Centre at Exeter University says Breivik’s target was a multicultural society. He shot Labour party activists and targeted the prime minister because they represented what he despised.
In the manifesto Breivik posted online shortly before massacring 76 people in Norway, he boasted of his links to the EDL, saying he had been friends with over 600 members on Facebook and helped supply them with “processed ideological material” in the very beginning. However, Norwegian police have found he acted alone.
Dr Lambert says the links are unsurprising, although the nature of the contact remains to be seen. “I think what's really significant is up until we've had an extraordinary situation in the UK where the EDL has been treated almost like an ordinary group, it has not really been subject to the same level of attention.”
But who are the EDL, and what attracted Breivik to them? In their own words, they are group who are “fed up and sick to the back teeth of Islamic extremism in the UK”.
Formed from a group called the “United People’s of Luton” in 2009 by Tommy Robinson a.k.a Stephen Lennon, the group’s modus operandi is street protest. But Weyman Bennett from the anti-racist group Unite Against Fascism paints it differently. "I was in Luton when the EDL was formed. I remember them running amok in the Asian areas, and attacking Christians who lived next to Muslims. It was a group of 500 people charging through an immigrant area. Beneath the rhetoric, the founder of the EDL is an ex-BNP member. What they do recognise is because of what happened with the Holocaust they can't repeat the same message."
EDL founder Tommy Robinson told the BBC on Monday night that they were anti-extremist and anti-violence:
"The fact is there is an undercurrent of anger across the whole of Britain across the whole of Europe. If you don't address this issue, if you keep sweeping it under the carpet ... When you're aggrieved you peacefully protest. That's what the English Defence League does."
For Mohammed, the right-wing group are a threat to everyone.
"They are a racist and Islamaphobic violent right wing organisation that ought to be banned, recent events in Norway highlights the danger of their ideology,” he said.
"Although their core agenda is against Muslims they're a threat to community cohesion, individuals who they perceive to be Muslims. What stops people like Breivik being inspired and taking things further as a result of their hate speeches?”
In a recent statement posted on their website, the EDL denied all links with Breivik. They also linked his killing spree to “the particular problem that Norwegians have with radical Islam”
“As well as being completely unjustifiable, the attacks in Norway were in no way a direct or coherent response to the particular problem that Norwegians have with radical Islam. But that is not to say that these problems do not exist, or that any country in the world is immune from what radical Muslims believe to be a truly global jihad.”
However, Breivik reportedly marched with the EDL as recently as last year.
Anti racism group Hope Not Hate highlighted the extent of the killer’s contact with the EDL on Tuesday, reporting that he told them the “keep up the good work” on an online forum shortly before going underground to plot the last stage of his attacks.
His links with extremists groups in the UK are currently being examined by police. As part of the response to the terror in Norway, Prime Minister David Cameron has also ordered a review into extremists groups in the UK. But why did it take the government so long?
Faisal Hanjro, spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain says the action is long overdue: “The day before one the attacks in Norway one of our affiliate Mosques was attacked and the word 'EDL' was scrawled across the wall."
"There wasn't much impetus from the government to do much about this, obviously with Norway this has changed.”
Bennett of Unite Against Fascism says the EDL’s ideology has grown in England because they present themselves as a non-extremist group who are merely opposed to the perceived spread of Islam.
“The discourse around 7/7 has allowed racists to build street gangs with a veneer of respectability. Norway has exposed them as the thugs they are.”
Bennett adds: "There has been a very large increase in attacks on mosques. The EDL are more sophisticated, they're building the numbers. They get 2,000 people go to a multicultural area and attempt a pogrom. They attack Hindus, Sikhs, they attack non-Muslims. It starts with Muslims and now it's going to any group described as liberal. Muslims are a fig leaf for the far-right.”
The research proves his point. The attacks against Mosques are just one crude marker of increased anti-Muslim sentiment. A 2010 study of anti-Islamphobia in London by researchers at Exeter University including Dr Lambert found hate crimes against Muslims had “increased dramatically” in the last decade - and many were not reported to police because of a “lack of confidence” they would be investigated.
“We have a really dark cloud that has developed over Europe and part of the response to the economic crisis that has taken place here, some leaders have come out with anti-immigrant rhetoric.”
Hanjro says the EDL’s actions and Breivik's apparent relationship to them is a huge concern:
“The lesson from Norway is to always be prepared and I think given Breivik's connections with the EDL, given how closely he was fraternising and how closely he was communicating with the EDL we have to be concerned."
Each EDL march costs the state. Josh Peck, a Labour councillor in Tower Hamlets, concerned about a proposed EDL march through the multi-cultural area in East London has written to the Home Secretary Theresa May asking her to ban the demonstration. He cites the “violence, tension and public disorder” that have marred demonstrations in Oldham, Stoke and Leicester, writing: “Policing at these demonstrations has reportedly cost as much as £500,000 – money that our police force can ill afford to lose.”
But it’s not just the money, and it’s not just the EDL. Raza Madim, spokesman for Muslim civil liberties group the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC) says the relationship between EDL and Norway’s killer points to a wider issue about the spread of nationalism across Europe and the UK.
“As a Muslim I am quite angry, and I think most Muslims are very angry that the instant reaction was 'Muslims'. The Sun's headline where they wrote it was Norway’s 9/11 and an 'Al Quaeda' attack shows people were adamant and wanted to make Muslims the terrorists.”
Madim says the focus on the EDL is because the British National Party (BNP) are too political. For him, they’re “fascists” in suits who oppose immigration, whereas the EDL are more of a grassroots protest movement focusing on Muslims.
“With the EDL and BNP there are always splinter groups. there's an openly violent group in the north-west called the 'infidels', and there's also the Stop Islamisation Of Europe group, who are basically organised football hooligans. The thing is that it's a growing problem and the lack of action by the government means people do think it's quite worrying”.
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