The recent launch of the Faith Hate report by Faith Matters, the organisation that I head, highlights the continuing attempts by the far-right English Defence League (EDL) to manipulate local tensions between faith communities in our country.
As our research shows, the EDL has actively attempted to recruit members of faith communities into its ranks. Recently, both EDL leader "Tommy Robinson" (real name: Stephen Lennon) and his cousin and deputy Kevin Carroll turned up outside a police station in Luton where an individual of Pakistani heritage had been detained for an alleged sexual assault against a Sikh female.
Local Sikhs had been gathering around the building. Sensing an opportunity to manipulate local concerns, Robinson and his motley crew decided to mingle with the crowds, even though the vast majority of Sikhs are sickened with groups like the EDL. After taking photos, Robinson decided to post them straight to Twitter. To the EDL leadership this was a campaigning and photo opportunity and a blatant attempt to abuse community tensions and feelings. They simply walked away after getting their pictures with little or no care about the repercussions or tensions they had stirred.
Also highlighted in the Faith Matters report is the lack of a national voice from mainstream Christian communities against the English Defence League and other extreme groups within our country. The EDL has consistently misused Christian symbolism in its literature and online content. It's symbols attempt to brand the EDL as "protecting" Christian values, even though most EDL sympathisers are unlikely to be regular worshippers.
Local anti-hate campaigners like Peter Adams of the St Mary's Church and Churches Together in Luton, the Bishop of St Albans and Bishop Tony Robinson of the Kirklees Faiths Forum have all stood up and been extremely active at a local level against the corrosive activities of the EDL. Peter Adams in Luton provides pastoral care when EDL marchers tramp through his community.
His care and compassion stands in marked contrast to the institutional silence of the Church of England and other mainstream Christian bodies at a national level. In a fast-moving world of instant communication, such bodies may well be left behind in the media tussle that is taking place. That would be a real shame, since their voices carry real authority in areas where the EDL are at their strongest.
On a separate note, our report also highlights the work of the Jewish Defence League (JDL) made up of only a handful of campaigners. One of them, it has been alleged, is Roberta Moore who previously left the EDL's Jewish Division after complaining of anti-Semitism. Moore links Atlas Shrugs 'soccer mom' blogger, Pamella Geller, and a variety of anti-Muslim pressure groups Geller has developed in the US (such as Stop the Islamization of America and more recently being behind the inflammatory New York subway poster campaign against Muslim communities in the US). The JDL UK Facebook page recently ran a series of graphic and pornographic images of Mohammed and regularly threatens violence. For example, in other recent posts it suggested that US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton should be hung and then went on to abuse the deceased US Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.
The Kahanist principles that this group has been based upon have been banned in Israel itself and Kahanist movements have generally been regarded as an internal threat by successive Israeli Governments. At Faith Matters we therefore call on the Home Office to proscribe this group here in the UK and to investigate where its funding originates, since the group promotes not only anti-Muslim hatred but also gives succour to anti-Semitic hate. Both of these hatreds are unacceptable in our country.
Whilst more and more lights are shone on the EDL and its affiliates, we believe that the future may give these far-right organisations more oxygen, as economies weaken in Europe. More than ever, the voices of reason within faith communities are needed and there is a need for all of us to report faith-hate crimes where we see them. If we allow the EDL and other extreme groups an inch, have no doubt, they will take a mile and before long they will be shaping your future into one of conflict.