The English Defence League (EDL) was back in Birmingham on Saturday for the first time since 2013, when it drew a large crowd and there was rioting and many subsequent convictions. This time it was more of a small mob than a crowd, and a 'Best of British tea party' at Birmingham Central Mosque attracted many more people.
That is not to say that the peaceful tea party drew the people who would have otherwise got drunk and ranted with the EDL mob, though it would be nice if that were the case. EDL support has been falling over the past few years. Even former leader Tommy Robinson long since jumped ship. Last year he tried to drum-up interest in the German far-right group Pegida at an event in Birmingham, but that was a flop.
Like a vulture on some kind of stimulant, Tommy Robinson rushed to scene of the recent Westminster terror attack, enthused by the opportunity to spread some Islamophobia. The EDL, or what's left of it, also saw an opportunity in the London attack. They might have decided that returning to Birmingham would restore them to their former glory. It didn't, it merely highlighted how the mob has shrunk, while reminding us of how they exploit murders.
Most of the news coverage of Saturday's EDL rally has focused on local woman Saffiyah Khan, who was photographed calmly smiling at EDL leader Ian Crossland, who appeared rather less serene. The EDL's Facebook page and Crossland's own have since been littered with expletive-filled attacks on her, claiming she interrupted a minute's silence for recent terror victims in Stockholm and London, including PC Keith Palmer. As the Huff Post reported, this appears to be an unfair representation.
There is hypocrisy in the EDL's apparent concern with police welfare, as the last time it marched on Birmingham officers had concrete slabs and bricks hurled at them. Therefore, the far-right group doesn't have a great track-record in supporting the police. Anyone who has observed the EDL over recent years will see a dreary familiarity in the group's exploitation of PC Palmer's murder and other deaths. The EDL ghoulishly attempted to exploit the murder of Lee Rigby.
As capitalising on terrorist atrocities seems to be their way of demanding support, it is worth reflecting on the symbiosis of far-right anti-Islam groups and the fascist terror groups they claim to be fighting. Symbiosis has been defined as "The close association between two or more organisms of different species, often but not necessarily benefiting each member." It can also be applied to human groups. Just as different groups of football hooligans need one another, to have an excuse to fight, the EDL uses far-right extremists like Daesh as an excuse for their behaviour.
I realise that some supporters of organisations like the EDL and Britain First would deny that their groups are far-right. Furthermore, some would recoil at the idea that groups like Daesh are also far-right in nature. However, if we understand what far-right means, the evidence is clear. Common features of far-right movements include nativism, nationalism, dogmatism, fear of the extinction of one's ethnic group, anti-rationalism, anti-liberalism and authoritarianism.
Overtly racist far-right groups in the UK, like the National Front, the British National Party and National Action, have been pushed ever further to the fringes. Since publicly expressing support for white supremacist Thomas Mair's assassination of MP Jo Cox, the Nazi youth group National Action has been proscribed as a terror group and banned in the UK.
The older white supremacist groups began to fade decades ago but, in part due to the actions of far-right Jihadist terrorists, a troubling number of people find it acceptable to express hatred of Muslims. This has allowed groups like the EDL and Britain First to claim a legitimacy long denied to the National Front. Through focusing on Islam, rather than the colour of skin, the EDL manages to distinguish itself from older far-right groups like the National Front and BNP. It just so happens that the vast majority of Muslims in the UK are not white.
I have no doubt that there are those who march with the EDL who are genuinely alarmed by the rise of Islamist extremism. They are not alone in that, but their actions and hostility towards Islam in general merely adds fuel to the fire.
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 for status and to spread poison. All that has been learned from the rise and entropy of the EDL is that getting drunk, shouting drivel and driving families from city centres does absolutely nothing to fight terror, it adds to it.Suggest a correction