Wednesday, September 09, 2009

What do the EDL want to be?

Various bits of the British blogosphere and old media have been following with interest the development of and developments around the English Defence League (EDL). The best coverage I've seen has been in the ever superb Bartholomew's Notes on Religion. Much of debate has been around whether the EDL is the "far right" or not. The connections of this rather nebulous organisation's leaders have been one point of investigation down this path - particularly whether they have connections to established British far right groups such as the BNP or NF. I'm not actually sure how important that classification is. EDL leaders have stated they are not a racist organisation although their statements made in an interview (conducted, incidentally, by a visiting American Christian-right activist with a history of homophobia and with the EDL chaps wearing NI-paramilitary style balaclavas) give plenty of grist for anyone who wants to dispute this. There is a very obvious football casual culture and skinhead connection to the group as well, and I imagine that the Brum police will see a few known faces in the crowds from the national soccer hooliganism files. The organisation's mission is quite clear, they are against Islam in the UK - rather than having a more specific target of Islamists or radicals - so they don't seem very keen on any individual Muslims generally. Choose your own word to describe that.

What I found most interesting were two of the pictures that came out of the Brum demo: firstly, on the Daily Mail website, showing a bunch of shaven headed guys surrounded by cops, holding aloft the Israeli flag (scroll down). Pro-Israeli expression is now pretty common amongst far right groups and political parties across Europe, reflecting the centrality of their anti-Muslim discourse domestically. But also amongst the EDL crowd, other shaven headed young men were seen doing Hitler salutes, giving a very different impression. If the EDL attracts people of latter bent, they will alienate potential sympathisers in the former camp. This makes them an interesting British example of a tension in the radical right visible in lots of other European countries.

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