The English Defence League is exploiting religious tension and historical grievances to recruit religious Christians, Jews, Hindus and Sikhs with anti-Muslim propaganda, a new report shown exclusively to The Huffington Post UK has warned. As part of the group’s campaign to recruit religious members, the EDL has been in close contact with religious nationalist groups abroad, including the Jewish Defence league, a banned Jewish terrorist group in the US, a neo-Nazi Hindu nationalist group in India, and militant Christian organisations. The report on “What Draws People of Faith to Right-Wing Organisations?” was commissioned by Faith Matters, an interfaith and conflict resolution organisation, with its author going undercover on EDL marches to speak to religious and secular members.
The EDL use specifically Christian imagery as an anti-Muslim device
The Huffington Post UK has learned how the EDL are using sophisticated tactics to recruit religions with an “historical angst against Muslims” – referring to emotive historical events or current political tensions.
H S Lane, the report’s author who is using a pseudonym, told The Huffington Post UK: “It is actually very sophisticated and clever. People simply don’t realise this is happening.
“Recruiting people of other faiths is something I do believe the EDL genuinely cares about. It gives them legitimacy. Of course, it’s a tactical thing, they want to prove they are not racist, that the focus is solely on Islam.”
The EDL has one Muslim member who Lane said she was unsure as to whether he was a “vulnerable person”. He is regularly present at EDL demonstrations.
“The EDL leadership are very aware of the value of having someone like him, who gets a lot of attention at demonstrations,” Lane told The Huffington Post UK, “but they do often say to me, ‘look at him, he loves the attention.’”
The report also pinpoints the EDL’s use of Christian imagery and language to appeal to those who think Britain's status as a Christian country is under threat.
The EDL use tensions between faiths to target Muslims and recruit other religious groups
“The EDL casts its struggle in religious terms, and seeks to add a sense of cosmic significance by portraying a war being waged between Western civilisation and Islam, and more broadly between good and evil,” the report said. But although the other faiths all have a co-ordinated response to the EDL from religious leaders, including Sikhs Against The EDL, The Turban Campaign, and a campaign by the Union of Jewish Students and the Board of Deputies of British Jews’ Not In My Name campaign against the EDL, there has been little to no official response from Christian leadership on the threat of the EDL. Despite having an LGBT division, “the EDL has also fostered links with the extremist Christian Action Network (CAN); a homophobic and Islamophobic organisation founded by Martin Mawyer ‘to protect America’s religious and moral heritage through educational efforts’” The report called the link between the EDL and a small number of Jewish activists as “one of the most interesting and controversial.” The group has used tensions in the Middle East as a way to recruit British Jews, playing on any anti-Islam feelings. The EDL has likened the Quran to Nazi propaganda broadcasts, with EDL leader Tommy Robinson referring to Islam and Nazism as “two sides of the same coin”.
The EDL has made links with Jewish groups abroad, including California's Rabbi Nachum Shifren, seen here at a pro-Israel EDL demonstration
Lane told The Huffington Post UK: “The EDL members I spoke to spoke passionately about Israel, and about how much they supported it.
“But then, if you look at their Facebook pages, they have swastikas posted on their walls. The logic doesn’t add up.”
The report noted: “Within the last decade, far right activists have begun to forge alliances of convenience with radical Zionists, a coupling that has split the traditionally anti-Semitic far right movement in Europe.
“Hard-line Zionists see the alliance as an opportunity to diminish the Muslim presence and influence in the USA and Europe they perceive as being detrimental to Israel.”
The group has been in contact with some of the most extreme Zionist groups. While the former leader of the Jewish division, Roberta Moore "attempted to forge a partnership between the EDL and the far right American group the Jewish Task Force whose leader Victor Vancier is a convicted terrorist."
Vancier said in a podcast on his website: “We were contacted by the English Defence League last few weeks and we have agreed we want to work together on joint projects… We are happy to work with them to save England from the millions of Muslim invaders.”
The EDL has since renounced the association, and Moore has left the organisation.
A member of the EDL wears a mock Burka as the EDL gather for a demonstration in Blackburn, England
The EDL has also sought to exploit tensions between Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims, particularly declaring its pride in the EDL Sikh division.
EDL members have waved Sikh nationalist flags (Khalistani) at demonstrations, and claim that they have the most Sikh members of any other minority.
The EDL has frequently turned up to Sikh demonstrations, including one outside a police station in Luton over the assault of a Sikh girl by a Muslim man.
Various Sikh groups are believed to have given tacit support for the aims of the EDL, including Sikhs Against Sharia and the Sikh Awareness Society (which has now publically distanced itself from the EDL).
An EDL supporter wears a mask at a demonstration
There are numerous Facebook groups for Sikh EDL members.
The report said that in order to recruit members, “the long history of cordiality between Sikhs and the British and the Sikh involvement in the British Indian Army.
"They highlight the fact that by the advent of World War I the number of Sikhs in the British Indian Army totalled over 100,000 and made up 20% of its manpower, and equally use these statistics to attract Sikh sympathies to their cause.” EDL member Raj Singh is also quoted in the report comparing the EDL to the Lions of Punjab, a Sikh group that clashed with Pakistanis in the 1980s. The report also linked the EDL, through a Canadian Hindu nationalist group, with Hindu Nationalist group Bharatiya Janata party in India, and the particularly the BJP led government of Gujurat, “which is notable for its complicity in anti-Muslim pogroms and glorifies Hitler as having been a great nationalist leader.” A group with 1,429 likes of “Hindus who support the English Defence League” declares “We are a group of Hindus, who strongly believe that Islam is nothing but an evil violent ideology; a cult following and whose sole purpose is to brainwash its followers.”
A large group of English Defence League members march through Luton
The official EDL makes repeated attempts to “exploit historical flashpoints between the two faith communities to weaken interfaith relations and stir up past unrest” and the report refers to “a YouTube video posted by a Hindu EDL sympathiser… utilises the Punjabi language, Hindi imagery, history, and sacred texts.”
But Lane told The Huffington Post UK ultimately she believed the group had “peaked” and were becoming less popular, regarded with suspicion.
“There are so many splinter groups, so much infighting, it is hard to keep track.
"I’d say there’s 300 people at every protest, but only 100 of them are the core supporters who come every week, and its very divided by area of the country, the London group, southern and northern.”
The report recommended interfaith work as crucial to ensure a hatred of Islam did not become the unifying factor for certain members of the Sikh, Hindu and Jewish communities, and the EDL.
Recommendations included creating local and national ‘faith festivals’, inter-faith vigils in protest of EDL demonstrations in their cities or towns, and the formation of Inter-faith groups to combat the EDL.
"For example, in addition to groups such as Sikhs Against the EDL, Jews, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, etc. should join forces to show solidarity and their opposition to right wing groups trying to divide their communities."
Eleanor Davidson of the Leicester Council of Faiths forum said of EDL members in February 2012: "We all have to try to work out ways of engaging with these people to help them tackling their prejudice without recourse to anger and violence.
"With this in mind, there should be ‘pop up’ centres in town centres with particularly diverse communities, staffed by representatives of all religions for EDL members and general members of the public to have their questions and concerns addressed in a neutral setting."