|The EDL is marching in memory of murdered soldier Lee Rigby|
The East Anglian division of the far-right group has said it plans to march to Cambridge’s war memorial in Hills Road on Saturday to lay a wreath for the fallen soldier.
The event will clash with one of the city’s biggest celebrations of diversity,Strawberry Fair.
The EDL is planning protests in at least 30 locations on Saturday afternoon, after the group’s leadership called for localised events rather than a national demonstration.
The English Defence League is a protest group which since its establishment in 2009 has campaigned against what it calls “Islamic Extremism, Islamism and our governments spineless inability to address the issues”.
The think-tank Demos estimates the total size of the active membership to be at least 25-35,000 people. Of these, around half have been involved in demonstrations and/or marches, it found. The highest concentration of supporters is to be found around London.
In its mission statement on its website, the EDL calls itself “a human rights organisation that was founded in the wake of the shocking actions of a small group of Muslim extremists who, at a homecoming parade in Luton, openly mocked the sacrifices of our service personnel without any fear of censure”.
It claims to be fighting back against “religiously-inspired intolerance and barbarity that are thriving amongst certain sections of the Muslim population in Britain: including, but not limited to, the denigration and oppression of women, the molestation of young children, the committing of so-called honour killings, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and continued support for those responsible for terrorist atrocities”.
The EDL vows to “continue to work to protect the inalienable rights of all people to protest against radical Islam’s encroachment into the lives of non-Muslims”.
Its mission statement adds: “In order to ensure the continuity of our culture and its institutions, the EDL stands opposed to the creeping Islamisation of our country, because intimately related to the spread of Islamic religion is the political desire to implement an undemocratic alternative to our cherished way of life: the sharia”.
It goes on to say “we must always protect against the unjust assumption that all Muslims are complicit in or somehow responsible for these crimes,” but “we must not be afraid to speak freely about these issues”.
The group claims also to “recognise that Muslims themselves are frequently the main victims of some Islamic traditions and practices”.
An online presence
The EDL has more than 133,000 ‘Likes’ on Facebook – up from just 33,000 in July last year – and more than 28,000 followers on Twitter. This is up from 4,500 last summer.
In November 2011 Demos undertook the first ever large-scale empirical study of the EDL, which comprises responses from 1,295 sympathisers and supporters, and includes data on their demographics, involvement in EDL activity, political attitudes and social views.
According to Demos, the EDL is “the biggest populist street movement in a generation. Yet the make-up of the group and what its members believe remain a mystery because it has no formal joining procedures or membership list, and much of its activity takes place online”.
The think-tank found police and other groups have “often struggled to gauge the scale of threat posed by the EDL, because it is difficult to estimate the relationship between the group’s online membership and its active core of street protesters”.
It concluded although the EDL is usually understood as an anti-Islamic or anti-Islamist demonstrating group, the reality is more complex.
The Demos study found
EDL supporters are characterised by intense pessimism about the UK’s future, worries about immigration and joblessness. This is often mixed with a proactive pride in Britain, British history and British values, which they see as being under attack from Islam.The study found “although the group’s leaders claim Islamic extremism is the EDL’s primary raison d’etre, supporters appear to care more about immigration: 42 per cent consider immigration one of the top two issues facing the country, with 31 per cent citing Islamic extremism”.
Some 41 per cent of supporters claimed to have joined the EDL because of their views on Islam, while 31 per cent cited love of England, and a commitment to the preservation of traditional national and cultural values.
According to research for Chatham House based on a YouGov survey, some 79 per cent of EDL supporters say there will be a ‘clash of civilizations’ between Muslims and white British citizens, which is 30 points higher than the average of 49 per cent.
Some 72 per cent of EDL supporters say violence between different groups is ‘largely inevitable’, compared with an average of 46 per cent.
The EDL does not have members in the conventional sense, Demos found. Subsequently, the think-tank maintains “it is more accurate to describe the group’s supporters as sub-groups of activists and sympathisers”.
Taking to the streets
Around half of EDL supporters have been involved in demonstrations and/or marches, Demos found. The largest demonstration ever held by the EDL involved approximately between 2,000 and 3,000 people.
According to the Chatham House research, between 2009 and 2012 the EDL organised more than 50 street-based demonstrations. These often mobilized between 1,000 and 3,000 activists and led to significant policing costs.
Research for Chatham House notes although findings confirm counter-Jihad groups appeal to less well-educated men from the working class, “the picture is far more complex than debates in Europe suggest”.
Firstly, supporters are older and more educated than many assume. Only 16 per cent are aged between 18 and 29, while most are over 44 years of age.
Demos found 28 per cent of EDL supporters are over 30; some 30 per cent are educated to university or college level; and 15 per cent have a professional qualification.
There are far more male supporters than female: 81 per cent are male and 19 per cent female. But Channel 4 News notes that compared to other far-right groups like the BNP or the National Front, the EDL attracts many more women supporters.
A significant percentage of EDL supporters are unemployed, although this is especially true of older supporters, Demos found. Among 16 to 24-year-old EDL supporters, 28 per cent are unemployed, compared with a national average of 20 per cent for the same age group.
Among 25 to 64-year-old EDL supporters, some 28 per cent are unemployed, compared with a national average of six per cent.
Discussing counter-Jihad groups generally, research for Chatham House said: “Supporters are no more dependent than the average in society on (often scarce) social housing. And they are no more likely than average to be unemployed”.
Nor are they politically apathetic. “Those in society who are most receptive to the defence leagues are far from satisfied with the political status quo. They are consistently more dissatisfied than the average citizen with politics, more distrustful of institutions and more likely to think that the political system has serious faults that need addressing”.
And while “those drawn into the orbit of movements like the EDL are extreme in their views towards Islam and Muslims”, these anxieties “only partially explain the nature of the counter-Jihad challenge”.
Findings “indicate that the EDL and similar groups in Europe are reaching out to citizens who are actually more likely than their fellow citizens to express a range of socio-political attitudes: they are more authoritarian in their outlook on society, more hostile towards Islam, more dissatisfied with politics, and especially more hostile towards immigrants and ethnic minorities generally”.
More than seven in 10 supporters see immigrants as undermining the national culture, but “only a minority of those who agree with the platform of the EDL endorse classical or ‘biological’ racism”.
Instead, evidence suggests “they feel that ethnic minorities and immigrants are being prioritized by elites at the expense of native citizens”.
EDL leader Tommy Robinson told Channel 4 News earlier this week the EDL is not racist: “The truth cannot be racist,” he said.
“You can be any colour, but you can be a terrorist Muslim.”
Many vehemently oppose the EDL. Hope Not Hate maintains the EDL is “a racist organisation whose main activity is street demonstrations against the Muslim community”.
The group argues “although it (the EDL) claims only to oppose Islamic extremism, it targets the entire Muslim community, and its actions deliberately seek to whip up tensions and violence between Muslim and non-Muslim communities”.
Meanwhile Unite Against Fascism labels the EDL “an organisation of racist thugs with links to the BNP (British National Party)” which “has targeted Muslims and mosques, whipping up hatred, division and violence where it has been allowed to march”.
Demos notes some civil society groups have called for the EDL to be banned as an extremist organisation, arguing it ought to be included in the government’s counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST.
Computer hacking network Anonymous yesterday published online a list apparently showing the contact details of EDL members.
Names and addresses of more than 200 people from all over the country are on the list.
The publication followed an audio message, recorded with a computerised voice and published on YouTube, from Anonymous UK to the EDL. It accused the far-right group of taking “advantage of moments of fear and terror to spread hatred and animosity”.
It likened the EDL to a “pack of raving ignoramuses” and said the group’s “constant belligerence” would further “only bigotry and segregation”.
The message added:
You have angered us considerably, and summoned our wrath irrevocably.Others, however, including Maurice Glasman, have called for dialogue to address the "legitimate" concerns of their membership. In April 2011 he said Labour should involve EDL supporters.
However, Glasman later told the New Statesman: "It did not cross my mind that anyone could think that I support the English Defence League (EDL), which I consider a thuggish and violent organisation.
"When I said in an interview with Progress magazine in April that we should listen to supporters of the EDL, I was arguing that the best way to defeat fascist organisations is to engage with their supporters in a politics of the common good that addresses issues of family housing and safer streets, the living wage and a cap on interest rates."