Can we save Muslims by banning the EDL?

Activists want to squish the EDL because they think its propaganda turns Muslims into Islamists. How patronising.

Tom Bailey

Topics Politics

In Muswell Hill, north London, an Islamic community centre was burnt down yesterday. Although the cause and the culprit(s) are yet to be identified, fingers are already being pointed at the English Defence League, the right-wing, ostensibly anti-Muslim organisation whose initials were found daubed on the building. The EDL has said it had nothing to do with the fire, but that won’t stop blame from heading its way

You see, blaming the EDL comes all too easy to the right-thinking classes at the moment. Following the murder of army drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich a couple of weeks ago, the media has been awash with stories of the threat posed by the EDL to community cohesion, and of its ability to stoke fear among Muslims, potentially sowing the seeds of a violent Islamist retribution. The Mail on Sunday, for instance, published a survey of the public’s reactions to the Woolwich attack, with one particular question standing out: ‘To what extent would you agree or disagree with the following statement? Organisations like the English Defence League are stirring up hatred and violence between groups and making the risk of attacks of this kind [the killing of Lee Rigby] more likely?’ Sixty-one per cent of respondents replied in the affirmative.

The Independent turned the survey response into the headline: ‘EDL stirs up hatred and makes risk of attack “more likely”‘. The Huffington Post did something similar.

Claims that the EDL is ‘part of the [terrorism] problem’ or a ‘fuel for extremism’ are nothing new. It has become commonplace among so-called anti-fascists to accuse the EDL, not only of making white working-class people more hateful, but also of driving Muslim youth ‘into the arms of extremists’. Even the West Midlands Counterterrorism Unit has joined in, claiming that EDL demonstrations ‘feed Islamic extremism’.

There is, of course, plenty to disagree with the EDL about, from its opposition to certain forms of immigration to its attempts to find the causes of modern terrorism in a few passages of the Koran. But accusing the EDL of being the ‘fuel’ for extremism and the ‘cause’ of terror attacks – accusations which are likely to gain in traction following the Muswell Hill fire – is nonsensical. Attempting to lay the blame for radical Islamism at the feet of the EDL is essentially just a way to try to silence the EDL, rather than engage with it or oppose it politically. Telling an organisation that ostensibly exists to oppose political Islamism that it is in fact encouraging political Islamism is little more than an attempt to tell it to shut up and stop its activities.

One of the most destructive aspects of blaming the EDL for driving young Muslims into the arms of radical Islamists is that it assumes that Muslims can only act in one way. So, when faced with EDL chants like ‘Muslims out’, it is assumed that young Muslims’ automatic response will be to join or support radical Islamist organisations. Muslim hear, Muslim do. It assumes that the main reason for Muslim youths becoming radical Islamists is the offensive chants and rhetoric of a small, right-wing organisation.

Furthermore, the image of the EDL as a prompt for radical Islamists’ ire blindsides us from understanding the EDL as it actually is in itself. Rather than viewing the EDL as a specific organisation, and looking at its actions in and of themselves, commentators only understand the group in terms of what they consider to be the reaction against it. The EDL becomes nothing but a spark, the potential ignition for Islamist violence.

In many ways, this is the flipside of the response to the putative Islamist attacks in Boston or Woolwich. The immediate response of the political and media class to such events is to worry about how the rest of society will respond, just as politicians and pundits worry about how Muslims will respond to antagonism from the EDL. So, in the case of Woolwich, the immediate reaction of the commentariat was to worry about how racist the response of the masses would be.

There seems to be a tendency among political elites to fret more about the potential responses to events, such as an EDL demonstration or an Islamist terror tantrum, than to try to get to grips with the actual events themselves. Such is the extent of elite anxiety when it comes to the public that they cannot help but worry about how we will respond to strange occurrences, and they devote great energy to trying to nip in the bud our presumed responses. It really is as patronising as it sounds.

Tom Bailey is a history undergraduate at University College London and a columnist for spiked. Visit his personal website here. Follow him on Twitter: @tbaileybailey

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Topics Politics


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