This was one of the issues addressed on last Sunday’s edition of the BBC television discussion programme The Big Questions.
Writing on his Demos blog, one of the participants in the programme, Jamie Bartlett, says the answer to the question is “no”. In particular he is dismissive of the idea that the English Defence League represents any serious threat and asserts that the police and media are “probably giving them too much attention”.
I take the opposite view. Despite its relatively small numbers – a Demos study co-authored by Bartlett estimates that it has between 25,000 and 35,000 supporters – the EDL exercises a disproportionate influence in encouraging acts of aggression against the Muslim community. This worrying development is in fact almost entirely ignored by the national media.
Below I have listed cases of EDL-inspired abuse and violence directed against Muslims, based on reports in local newspapers. For reasons of space I have restricted the list to examples from a single month, March 2012:
• On 3 March a gang of racists chanting “E-E-EDL” abused and threatened several hundred local schoolchildren of Bangladeshi heritage who Dagenham and Redbridge Football Club had invited to watch their Saturday afternoon match. The young Bangladeshis had to be escorted to a separate section of the ground at half time for their own protection. Nine people were subsequently banned from attending any further matches at the ground and the police are examining evidence to see if there is a basis for bringing criminal charges.
• On 5 March a Daventry EDL supporter named Charles Dickie was in court charged with abusing and threatening a Muslim taxi driver. Pointing to an EDL T-shirt he was wearing, Dickie told the driver he was “not welcome here” before launching a tirade of foul-mouthed racist abuse. Police opposed bail on the grounds that Dickie continued to make threatening comments after his arrest and had posted threats of violence on his Facebook page (these included the comment “EDL kill the paki twats“). The judge remanded Dickie in custody, stating that there was a substantial risk he would re-offend.
• On 6 March the trial began of nine men charged in connection with an attack on Kingston-upon-Thames mosque which had followed an EDL-backed protest. Chanting “E-E-EDL” the mob smashed a window, put bacon over cars parked outside the mosque, poured beer over the entrance and urinated against the wall, while one of the attackers went inside and urinated on the floor. Three of the accused were associates of Joel Titus, who was the national leader of the EDL’s youth section before being slapped with an ASBO and banned from attending EDL demonstrations for three years.
• On 6 March an EDL member in Gainsborough, Darren Conway, was in court for sentencing, having been convicted on a charge of religiously aggravated harassment. He had put up posters in his window featuring such slogans as “Muslims are the most hateful of them all” and “Jihad works both ways”. The posters were accompanied by pictures of mutilated Muslims and other graphic and obscene messages and imagery. Conway was sentenced to a year in prison.
• On 8 March a Bristol EDL supporter named Jamie Takle was in court, charged with abusing Muslim taxi drivers and smashing a taxi window. Police said Takle was so aggressive that they had to spray CS gas in his face to arrest him. When they asked him how he thought the drivers felt about being racially abused, Takle replied: “I vote BNP – what does that tell you? They should all go back to their own country.” He reportedly got off with a suspended sentence and a tagging order.
• On 17 March, after holding a demonstration against “Muslim paedophiles” in Cleckheaton, EDL members proceeded to get drunk at a pub in Dewsbury town centre, where they subjected passers-by to racist abuse and assaulted an Asian man, knocking him to the ground and leaving him with a black eye and bruised ribs. Police have appealed to the public for “mobile phone footage of racist chanting, damage, or assaults” that will enable them to identify the perpetrators.
• On 20 March the EDL held a demonstration outside Dewsbury Magistrates’ Court against Azhar Ahmed, who had been charged with posting abusive Facebook comments about British troops in Afghanistan. The protest passed off without violence but the Yorkshire EDL Facebook page through which it was organised featured a number of explicit death threats against Ahmed. These included “Fuckin die cunt”, “slice and dice the bastard”, “die u scumbag”, “burn the pak bastard” and “stone the cunt to death”. None of the EDL supporters posting this abuse has so far been charged with any offence.
• On 26 March four Yorkshire EDL supporters were given sentences ranging from 15 months to five years for an attack on two Asian teenagers, who were beaten with a stick and in one case slashed across the face with a knife. A participant on Sunday’s The Big Questions referred to the conviction of these four thugs as an example of the EDL’s violent character, in response to which Stephen Lennon demanded evidence of any connection to the EDL. Hope Not Hate had no difficulty providing it.
• On 28 March Charles Dickie (see 6 March) was was found guilty of making religiously aggravated threats. He could not be sentenced because he refused to get into the police van that was taking him to the hearing. However the judge said that he was minded to sentence Dickie to 20 weeks in prison when he does appear in court, in addition to four weeks for a previous assault.
• On 30 March three men – David Morris, Martin Pottle and Alfie Wallace – were convicted of violent disorder and racially aggravated criminal damage during the attack on Kingston Mosque (see 6 March). Releasing them on bail, the judge warned them they faced possible prison terms when they return for sentencing on 27 April.
Bear in mind that this list is restricted to incidents that have been reported in the press and in which an EDL connection is established, so the summary almost certainly underestimates the level of aggression directed against the Muslim community by EDL supporters. Nevertheless, what we see here is a clear pattern of anti-Muslim intimidation and violence inspired by the EDL. Academic specialists in the far right who claim that the police and media have overestimated the problem are acting irresponsibly, in my opinion.