Islamophobia

The brutal murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich has sent shockwaves through British society. As he was going to see his mum on Wednesday, he was run down and hacked to death by Islamic extremists with meat cleavers and knives. The suspects, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, stayed at the scene to preach their message of hate and attacked the police. Both were shot and are now in hospital under armed guard.

Lee Rigby’s murder has caused a backlash of anti-Muslim sentiment across the UK. Faith Matters, an inter-faith charity, published statistics which indicate that attacks on Britain’s Muslim community are currently 10% higher than the normal rate. As of Saturday, the charity has received 162 calls, compared to a daily average of six. The crimes include verbal abuse, damage to mosques and graffiti, and physical assaults. There have even been reports of men pulling down the headscarves of Muslim girls. Of these attacks, 19 have been street-based, indicating those who would commit hate-crime are now less afraid to do so in public places. These statistics only reflect the recorded crimes of those that are reported, so the true figure could be even higher.

The spike in anti-Muslim activity has been put down to reactionary activity by right-wing groups utilising the murder for their own political ends, mostly to incite hatred and recruit some easily-influenced people who were probably on the peripheries of such groups. Certainly some are, but what if these attacks point to underlying tensions and prejudices about immigration that already exist in British society? Was there something already bubbling under the surface?

The attacks are coming from across the country rather than one place. In Milton Keynes, a petrol bomb was thrown at a mosque during Friday prayers. In Bolton, “Islam = Evil” and “Terrorist Inside” was spray-painted on a mosque. In Braintree, a man tried to enter a mosque armed with two knives and a smoke bomb. The secretary of the mosque said it felt like a “revenge attack.” Cambridge and Gillingham also saw similar incidents, and bacon was reportedly left outside a mosque in Cardiff. Anti-Muslim sentiment (and other expressions of concern) where written online, with arrests being made in Lincoln, London, Southsea and Woking. Prior to a march through Newcastle by the English Defence League, individuals were also arrested in Gateshead and Stockton. Teresa May has warned thousands of Muslims face radicalisation, but it appears as if there are British people flocking to another form of extremism: British fascism. British fascists, who prefer to style themselves as British nationalists, hold extreme views in the name of Britain. The two major groups are the English Defence League (EDL) and the British National Party (BNP).

British nationalists create the illusion that Muslims in Britain are a threat to the existing way of life, which enables them to argue they are legitimately defending themselves, and the country. That is why Saturday’s English Defence League (EDL) march in Newcastle attracted 1,500 protestors and enabled them to shout “Whose streets? Our streets!”

While the EDL has only recently emerged and states they are only opposed to Islamic extremism, the roots of the BNP go far deeper, targeting those who belong to other “races” and Jews. Though party leaders are no longer outspoken on Jews and those belonging to other races as they once were, race was the cornerstone of the BNP under John Tyndall.

After assuming leadership of the party, Nick Griffin led a campaign of ‘normalisation’ and attempted to turn it into an alternative political party. Even still, the BNP have continued their technique of exploiting racial tensions to divide united communities and make cheap political gains, as many fear is occurring at the moment. Even prior to the September 11th attacks, the BNP had a significant presence in Burnley and it was directly involved in inciting the Oldham riots in 2001, from its “Equal rights for Oldham whites” demonstration outside Oldham police station to Nick Griffin’s announcement he would be standing for Oldham West and Royton. The rioting was so intense it briefly eclipsed the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. Directly after the September 11th attacks on New York and Washington, the leaders of major British political parties were calling for restraint after a surge of anti-Islamic attacks (much like those that are happening now). Nick Griffin, ever the opportunist, intensified the BNP’s existing anti-Muslim campaign. The BNP received great media attention during this period, and the ‘No Platform’ policy, which was put in place to stop the far right gaining a voice in the media, was removed.

A similar thing happened in the immediate aftermath of the 7/7 bombings. While major political parties were calling for restraint, a political pamphlet brought out for the 2006 local elections carried an aerial photograph of the bus blown up in Tavistock Square with the caption ‘Maybe now its time to start listening to the BNP.’ They would also disseminate untruths, such as immigrants were being given money to buy houses in certain areas of London; and took to copying the tactics of and strengthening existing links with European far right groups, such as Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front Nationale in France. Though its support has wavered in recent years, many fear that the attack in Woolwich will be used as ammunition to revive the party. This is already happening: Nick Griffin, who recently tweeted that the suspects should be “wrapped in pig skin” and shot again, has announced the BNP will march through Woolwich on 1st June.

Without a doubt, the BNP draws its support from the white working class, who were increasingly alienated under New Labour. Though it is not the only base since the most disaffected are also the least likely to vote. It is therefore likely that people would have voted BNP as a protest vote or for tactical reasons.

These far-right groups have been explicitly expressing a commitment to preserving the place of those who satisfy their ethno-nationalist criteria against Islam in the inevitable ‘clash of civilisations’ between Islam and the West for years. Why then, is it the case that it is seen as these few doing all the evil? Perhaps individuals gain comfort from the belief evil can be contained, or is restricted to a select few. The sad truth, however, is that all of their propaganda has been permeating British society for years. To rule this out when Islamophobia is on the rise would be an unacceptable risk.

BY: Matthew Jones