A group of extremist Islamists attacked the returning soldiers as "butchers of Basra," "baby killers," and "terrorists" during a homecoming parade not long ago in the city of Luton. With years of anti-British "political correctness," and a political class that has failed to tackle Islamism with seriousness, this proved to be too much: the crowd that had turned out to cheer on the soldiers was soon making their disgust known to the Islamists; the two groups had to be held apart by police. Within a few days, a video was floating around the internet, showing the aftermath: calling themselves the "United People of Luton," thousands of (mostly) young men had taken to the streets in a rowdy, and chaotic show of anger and frustration, chanting "no surrender to the Taliban," "we are Luton," and, directed at the Islamists, "scum."
A short time later, the English Defense League [EDL] emerged from the United People of Luton, and, in a little over the year since its founding, has become the largest street protest movement in Britain.
The EDL has also inspired the recent establishment of independent leagues in the Netherlands, Norway, Germany, and other EU states; the movement is attracting international attention – including from the Israeli-based Haaretz and the US-based Dissent.
Strident opposition to integration -- from politicians, the media, and Islamist extremists -- has led to serious social problems, not only for long-settled British citizens, but also for immigrants and the children of immigrants. These range from the high rates of unemployment among Muslims, the forced marriage of school girls (and to a lesser extent school boys), to honor violence against women and girls, and violence against homosexual Muslims. Opponents of integration know of these problems, but ignore them. It would appear that their intention was not to make life easy for immigrants, but to make life easy for themselves.
Mass immigration into Europe, is, in some sense the "Americanization" of Europe, according to Christopher Caldwell, author of Reflections on the Revolution In Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West, who has said that over the last few decades – especially over the last ten years – Europe has become increasingly multi-ethnic, and multi-religious, and multi-everything. In this sense, it resembles the US, especially its cities, such as New York; however, because the EU was intended as a "counterbalance" to the US – and an exemplar of a more socialistic, statist, and allegedly moral and ethical way of doing things – Europe has enacted immigration and integration in an almost opposite way. Consequently, as immigration has increased, instead of becoming more like the US, Europe has become less like it.
In the US, newcomers may be encouraged to feel proud of America's achievements in the world, its democracy, its opportunities. Immigrants might retain significant aspects of their culture, their religion, or values from their former homes, but, largely, they are also proud to be American, and proud to have democracy, liberty, free speech, and the other opportunities for which they came. In Britain, however, immigrants have been encouraged to remain separate from the rest of society, to refrain from learning the language of the host culture, and from integrating. The Archbishop of Canterbury appeared to encourage the adoption of some sharia into Britain in 2008; a few months later, Stephen Hockman, QC, former chairman of the Bar Council, called for aspects of sharia to be formally incorporated into British law.
The routine devaluing of British culture is a gift to Islamists who want to separate Muslims from non-Muslims in the UK – or, worse, who intend to impose sharia on everyone, like it or not. The organization hosting Hockman, as he delivered his appeal for a sharia-lite Britain, was none other than the now-banned Islam4UK, an Islamist group descended from al-Muhajiroun, which has been linked to one in seven convicted terrorists in the UK.
Although Hockman suggested that incorporating Sharia into British law would help Muslims integrate, practically he was advocating integrating Britain into Sharia law. Many British people fear that this is precisely what is occurring, and would prefer that everyone accept British law and liberty, and muddle along together. How unlikely this seems, listening to Britain's elected representatives. When then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown finally addressed the issue of uncontrolled immigration and announced that immigrants would be required to learn English and sign up to British values, David Cameron absurdly accused him of aping far-Right and neo-fascist political parties.
As Natan Sharansky has described in Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy, multiculturalism has allowed the politically radical to use those identities which they deem "progressive" and "anti-colonial" to destroy the majority culture, which they view as "reactionary" and "colonial." For the radical Left, the media and political class, Englishness is firmly "reactionary" and "colonial." To defend national values is taboo, if not regarded as outright "extremism." To extend liberty to everyone is, we are told, "human rights imperialism."
Several of the organization's members traveled to New York recently for the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. In a move, however, that one US conservative blogsite has compared to the deportation of Geert Wilders from the UK last year, the organization's leader, Tommy Robinson, was reportedly stopped by two police, or TSA, officers and taken into custody before being put on a plane back to the UK. The reason given, apparently, was that Mr. Robinson had filled out his entry form improperly.
While at the World Trade Center area, EDL members spent the morning speaking to the press and members of the public.
Another EDL leader, Kevin Carroll, mentioned that he and others in the movement were visiting the US
To support our American cousins against this incredibly insulting slap in the face to the American people, just to show our support for the fire department of New York, the NYPD, their families – all the families the families of those lost – there is an incredible amount of passion for this whole situation, for all those people that were lost and murdered. We felt it our duty really to come over and support all these people, because it is incredibly insensitive by the Islamic leaders for pushing this [Islamic center] forward.
Another EDL member, Nem Smith, reiterated the EDL's "solidarity with our American cousins:"
9/11 was a tragic, tragic event that affected not just New Yorkers and Americans, but [also] the global community; we felt it in the UK. What happened on 9/11 reverberated throughout the United Kingdom and Great Britain. [We are here] to remember those who died that day, and… to oppose the building of that mosque.
Wearing black T-shirts, emblazoned on the back with the English, Israeli, and US flags, the name of the movement, and the legend "No mosque at Ground Zero," the EDL entourage attracted much attention from the press and passers-by, many curious to know the meaning of the T-shirts and the England/EDL flags the group were displaying – and where they could purchase them.
People waited patiently to have their photographs taken in front of the EDL flags, flanked by its members. African-American women, Asian men and women, and the young and old all went up, and posed, smiling.
Such positive attention must have been a welcome change for the EDL. To be photographed in front of one of its flags – or even an English flag, except during the soccer World Cup season – would be, politically and socially, considered unseemly in Britain: to wave an English flag now in England is enough to be stigmatized as a "racist." One EDL member complained that his local council had sent representatives to his privately owned home to order him to remove an English flag he was displaying. Although he refused, there have been many cases of threats of arrest or prosecution for flying the flag of England.
The fiercest opposition to the EDL comes from the controversial Unite Against Fascism [UAF], a militant Left-wing organization that has been accused of siding with the homophobic by gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, and of overlooking anti-Semitism by David Toube in the Guardian. Like other militant Left-wing organizations, the UAF has also allied, explicitly or implicitly, with – to use Nick Cohen's term – "far-Right Islamists."
As a recent example, a few months ago it became known that Indian cleric Zakir Naik, who had earned notoriety in the British press for his remarks at previous conferences abroad, was booked to speak at Wembley Arena. Naik had suggested that people of non-Muslim religions should be prohibited from preaching in Muslim countries [video], and that female victims of sexual assault, not wearing the veil, were partly to blame for attacks, and his assertion that "if he [Osama bin Laden] is terrorizing America the terrorist, I am with him. Every Muslim should be a terrorist." The EDL announced that it would protest outside Wembley Arena, while Naik spoke inside. The UAF – which would have us believe that it stands for religious pluralism, women's rights, and peace – then announced that they planned to counter-protest. As Sharansky has remarked, for Marxism and the movements it has spawned, there is a "sliding scale of condemnation:" some -- the anti-Western values -- are "good;" while others -- the pro-Western values -- are "bad."
Regardless of its titular claim to Unite Against Fascism, the UAF, like other militant Left-wing organizations, is fundamentally concerned with pitting "good" identities against "bad" identities, as they see them – in this case, of supporting Islamism against English and Western values.
This strategy is not new: In 1994, Chris Harman, editor of the Socialist Worker (UK), urged his comrades to win Islamists over to a revolutionary, socialist perspective. As the Independent observed after Harman's death in Cairo late last year, it was his article, "The Prophet and the Proletariat," that paved the way for "socialists to combat war and islamophobia" – or, rather, to use "Islamophobia" and "anti-war" rhetoric to attack the "imperialist" West.
The real concern for the militant Left is not Islamophobia, as they know it is bogus. Although they would never acknowledge it, the UAF, and the militant Left are generally more alarmed by the way in which the EDL has developed. Active support for the movement originally came mainly from soccer fans – including its hooligans. Today, the soccer-like chant of "E, E, E, EDL" remains, but it might come from the mouth of an openly gay 20-something year-old, a 30 year-old Sikh, or a member of another "minority."
In just over the year since it was established among the White working class, the EDL now has an expanding number of cultural divisions – most notably Jewish, Sikh, a women's division, and a LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) division. These are the very groups that the radical Left has regarded as the potential vanguards of a cultural revolution against Western values. Instead, under the EDL banner, they are rallying to defend Western values. It is an irony of history that neither the old school nor the Gramscian, "cultural" Marxist could avoid noticing.
Alarmed by the success of these English "arch-reactionaries," Dissent magazine said that it had
"no suggestions… about the best way to respond to the EDL in the short term… In the long term, [the Left needs] a politics that mounts a robust defense of the best elements of the Western enlightenment tradition against the genuine threat posed by Islamism."
Yet, old school Left-wingers such as Bruce Bawer, Nick Cohen, and Christopher Hitchens, who defend liberty against Islamism, have been routinely accused of being "Right-wing extremists," "neocons," or, in Cohen's case, of being mysteriously motivated by his Jewish roots.
If the Left did take Dissent's suggestion, would it be distinguishable from the EDL? Or Geert Wilders? Or others who defend democracy, and who are likewise denounced as "extreme Right-wing" or some variation thereof?
When the the UAF's tactic of accusing the EDL of being a "racist" organization was mentioned to Mr. Smith, he said,
Well, it is laughable. Who can take it seriously? We've got Black lads involved [in the EDL], we've got Sikhs involved, we've got Hindus involved. We've got gay people [involved]. We've got a Jewish division… How can anyone call a movement racist when we represent the British populace length and breadth. It doesn't matter what religion, creed or color you are. If you support our country, you want to live in our country, you want to abide by our laws I've got no problem with that. Patriotism transcends all those things: race, religion creed or color mean nothing. Patriotism is patriotism, it isn't racism.
Would it be possible, he was asked, for a Muslim who rejected Sharia law, and who was prepared to campaign against its introduction, and against Islamism in Britain, to join the EDL? He replied:
Of course it is. There is no reason for a Muslim not to. Our doors our open. If you believe in what we believe, if you love our country, if you're prepared to live in it, abide by its laws, and not try and bring in a Jihad of any kind, if you're going to live here in peace and contribute then fair play – we have Muslims in our British armed forces. We can't say we hate all Muslims, when we have Muslims serving in our armed forces. It's ridiculous.
Earlier in the day, when the EDL's Kevin Carroll was asked if he thought it possible to distinguish between reformist Muslims and the extremists that the EDL actively opposes. He said:
I have not met any [reformist Muslims], but I am sure they are out there. Their silence is a little deafening. We would love to see reformist Muslims coming out and supporting us for this, because these extremists are just pushing [the tensions in the UK] forward, irrespective of people's feelings. So when they say that they are a religion of peace, they have to remember that those people who did this [9/11 atrocity] also belonged to their religion of peace.
Later in the day, Mr. Carroll had a chance to meet a couple of reformist-minded Muslims. A middle-aged, Asian gentleman, Kamal Ramdass, who described himself as a "real Muslim," and wore a traditional, white, Muslim thawb and kufi, approached the EDL entourage, then suddenly and unexpectedly grabbed hold of an EDL flag and held it up. He said he condemned the violence in the Koran, and that he was opposed the building of the Ground Zero Mosque. He also proudly waved a copy of the US Constitution. On another occasion, an African American Muslim engaged the EDL about the Cordoba House/Park51 initiative, telling them that, as a Muslim, he rejected political Islam, and was opposed to building the mosque.
The atmosphere was undoubtedly relaxed and good-natured in downtown New York. However, this has not always been the case at EDL demonstrations in England, some of which have descended into virtual anarchy. Some EDL members said that protests have gone smoothly when they have been able to establish a good working relationship with police, but complained that some forces were uncooperative at the higher levels. The EDL has recently introduced "stewards" to work with police, and arrange meetings with police forces prior to events.
Part of the problem comes from the fact that, as Mr. Carroll put it, "You cannot legislate for who turns up at a demonstration. Anyone can buy one of our tee-shirts or hoodies and turn up at a demonstration" – which included, in its first few months, a number of neo-Nazis. "They want to see us go down," Mr. Smith asserted. The EDL contend that a number of UAF members have also been caught infiltrating EDL demonstrations and making "sieg heils" in order to discredit them. Since then, however, the EDL has discouraged extreme Right-wingers from attending, and the "stewards" have been instructed to remove anyone making racist gestures.
Not all opposition to the EDL comes from the fringes – although the far-Left seems to have a disproportionate influence on the mainstream, with its scaremongering about "Islamophobia." In 2009, during his election campaign, David Cameron said that he would consider banning the EDL. Cameron himself is clearly keen to have no mention about the degree to which radical Islamism has gained a foothold in the UK, and the degree of frustration and concern among the British public about it. The subject was off limits even during the election period, and, since he took up the post of prime minister, serious concessions have been made to Islamism.
In Mr. Smith's assessment:
The government does not like [the EDL] because we are a serious threat – we are doing this for the right reasons, we are not racist, we encompass every section of society, and because of that we have the right way of going about and implementing significant change within our political spectrum, to implement those changes that are needed to get rid of this Islamist problem. For that reason, and that reason alone, the government would sooner keep us quiet and keep defaming us, and keep painting us as Nazis and racists, because who is going to take them seriously?
The message of the EDL – that it opposes Jihadism – is clearly resonating in Britain. "No one has ever formed a street movement of this size, with so much impact, which got this big, and this organized, with no state funding," Mr. Carroll has said; also:
We have to fund it out of our own pockets. That is how we have achieved so much, because people believe in it, it is passion. It is their country. It is their way of life. It is their children's futures. We do not want to be Islamified.
The EDL sees Sharia as one of the problems Britain is now facing. "The implementation of Sharia law is happening in the UK right now," Mr. Carroll said:
The very nature of Islam is to dominate. The very word Islam translates into "surrender;" so they wish to dominate our land, our country, and force their Sharia law. The more Islam we get, the less freedom we have.
He also lays the blame at the feet of successive British governments eager to placate extremists:
It is happening in the UK. Everything is customized around Islam. No other religion is making as much noise [and, consequently] the government is conspiring with them… We already have a 100 Sharia law courts in the UK. We cannot operate a country with a two tear legal system. It just will not work. But unfortunately it is being implemented in the UK.
When it was pointed out that defenders of the courts – including its judges – say that they will help Muslims become a part of British society, Mr. Smith said, "If they wanted to integrate they would abide by our rules, and not push for their own laws."
(Since 2008, judgments made by Sharia courts in the UK have been legally binding, as they are sent to English courts to be rubber-stamped. At least 85 such courts were thought be operating as early as June 2009. Formally, they are only permitted to hear civil cases, pertaining to divorce, inheritance, and so on. Some, however, also reportedly hear criminal cases regard gang violence, stabbings, and other violations, behind closed doors.)
EDL members and their families who live in Muslim-majority areas of Britain face death threats and abuse, according to reliable sources. To protect themselves and their families at demonstrations and press conferences early on, some of the leaders of the EDL wore black balaclavas – later abandoned after the movement was heavily criticized for resembling a paramilitary outfit.
As a result of showing their faces, however, EDL members receive "threats all the time by the extremists," Mr. Carroll said, " – in public, in person. It has come to be the norm, but we will not back down, we will not give an inch. It is our home. Where do they want us to go?"
Violence and intimidation have affected the lives of many non-Muslims in Islamist-controlled ghettos, not just EDL members. In 2008, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali warned of "no-go areas" for non-Muslims. With the radicalization of Muslims in prisons, Muslim gangs have become firmly established in several British cities. Crime, the peddling of drugs, and gratuitous acts of sexual violence are not, of course, unique to Muslims – far from it. But, as Mohammed Shafiq, director of the Ramadhan Foundation, complained in 2008, the police have been extremely reluctant to investigate charges when the alleged perpetrators are Muslim and the victims White non-Muslims, for fear of being branded racist.
For those who live in such communities, the problem of violence and intimidation is all too real, and the lack of attention to the problem all too frustrating. The EDL is "growing because our message resonates throughout the United Kingdom," Mr. Smith said;
It does not matter what part of the country you come from in the UK, whether it is Birmingham, whether it is London, Luton, up North, Newcastle, Yorkshire; we have these Islamist ghettos, we have got people who are terrorist supporters, we have got the militant mad mullahs who are propagating… Islamism; and it needs to be countered. It needs to be stopped. People like us, who live in these kinds of communities are afraid to go out into their communities for fear of being victimized, for fear of being bullied, beaten, harassed, simply because we are not Islamic. These are serious issues. I haveve got nothing against every single Muslim, but I have got a problem with Muslims who politicize their religion, because if you politicize Islam then we are taking it back to its seventh century ideology, and when you take a seventh century ideology and bring it into the 21st century, in a Western, secular, democratic country then there is going to be a clash of cultures. It is happening. Jihad is happening here, right now, it is happening in the UK. And we are going to fight this tooth and nail until we get rid of it.
Such problems are not limited to the UK; nor, apparently, is the apathetic response to them. Bruce Bawer describes the problem in While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within. For example, it was reported in 2001 that 65 percent of rapes in Norway were committed by "non-Western immigrant[s]," a term, that Bawer suggests is a euphemism for Muslim men. When asked for an opinion on the problem, Oslo Professor of Anthropology Unni Wikan, a woman, suggested that "Norwegian women must take their share of responsibility for these rapes… Norwegian women must realize that we live in a multicultural society and adapt to it" (2006, p. 55). Exactly how does one adapt to a multicultural society? Or was professor Wikan merely playing a game of "good identity" ("anti-colonial" Islamism) versus "bad identity" (indigenous culture)?
With such responses from the "elite," it is not surprising that defense leagues are beginning to appear outside Britain. "The English Defense League has spread through the whole world now," Mr. Carroll said, referring to the independent leagues which are now appearing in other EU states:
"Our message," Mr. Smith said, "has resonated not only through the UK, but it goes through Europe as well:"
You have got other people [in Europe] who see our street protests, and who can say, "Right, we are taking to the streets, we understand the message [the EDL is] getting across;" and they are picking up on that and doing it themselves now. So, we are the fastest growing social movement in the UK. Unquestionably, undoubtedly, that is what we are. And people [abroad] have said, "We're going to try to emulate that, wea re going to do something similar,", because, frankly, we have had enough, and it is time for people to stand up against militant Islam.
The US has retained traditions rooted in a British democracy that Britain has thrown away. If Europe will "Americanize," defending liberty and democracy, and giving its immigrants opportunities to integrate and enjoy the benefits of the liberal democracy that it defends, it will be because it rediscovers traditions that have become American, but are rooted, to varying degrees, in the histories of European nations.
Indeed, with members of the EDL holding their flags with pride, putting their arms around men and women of every age and ethnicity, it seemed that the nationalism of the EDL was a cousin of American nationalism, in which everyone can be proud of his nation, and of being a citizen, under the flag of the nation.
New York afforded the EDL an opportunity to show the best of itself. Still, it is in Britain, not America, that the EDL will be tested. How it responds there will determine its success or failure. Certainly protests need to be peaceful --- and, if possible, good humored. Although undoubtedly sincere in its opposition to "Jihadists," the EDL needs to express support for reformist Muslims, of whom there are many in Europe [pdf]); and to acknowledge that Muslims are often the first victims of Islamism. If it can do this – bringing the diverse groups of society together, in support of national tradition, liberty, and democracy – the movement might one day be the new face of Europe