As reported here last week, the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR) held a conference in London on March 13 to study the “New Far Right” in Europe, with a special focus on the English Defence League.
The featured event of the conference was a report entitled “A Neo-Nationalist Network: The English Defence League and Europe’s Counter-Jihad Movement” [pdf], (redundant link) which focuses on the history of the English Defence and related movements across Europe, tracing what it considers the crucial transatlantic connections with these groups.
Aeneas of the International Civil Liberties Alliance has compiled an analysis of the ICSR report from the perspective of the British Counterjihad.
The British Counterjihad Movement by Aeneas
The ICSR report, “A Neo-Nationalist Network: The English Defence League and Europe’s Counter-Jihad Movement”, by Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens and Hans Brun, was obviously intended to damage the English Defence League, perhaps with an eye to supporting an eventual ban on it. To that end, it missed no opportunity to warn about possible ‘fascist’ characteristics and the potential for the emergence of ‘neo-Nazis’ in the group. Yet it is unable to present any evidence for such ‘tendencies’, merely offering vague warnings about bad things that somehow, someday, just might happen.
In contrast, by quoting from relevant EDL documents and other sources of information, it repeatedly presents evidence that the EDL is classically liberal, law-abiding, non-violent, and open to the inclusion of racial and other minorities. By showing the positive side of the movement, it has done the EDL and the European Counterjihad a great service.
This peculiar inconsistency — an obvious prejudice against the EDL accompanied by hard evidence that portrays the organisation in a good light — is hard to explain. Yet such contradictions appear repeatedly in the report.
The ICSR paper is too large to cover in its entirety. In my brief analysis below, I shall just touch upon some of the more important points.
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In its discussion of the EDL’s Mission Statement, the report engages in the most desperate circumlocutions to find ways to criticise the EDL’s warm embrace of ethnic minority communities. In this and other analyses, the authors seem to be suggesting that it is illiberal to oppose the illiberal.
Conversely, it does not address those aspects of Islam that the Counterjihad is concerned about; it just glosses over them. It pretends these crucial issues — involving real violence and real oppression — are due to misunderstanding, yet it never gives the Counterjihad any similar benefit of the doubt. Instead, it does what it can to demonise and delegitimise it.
Nationalism and ‘Cultural Nationalism’
The report places far too much emphasis on nationalism in its analysis of the Counterjihad. Nationalism is important to many supporters, but that is not the main thrust of Counterjihad, which is based firmly on the bedrock of tradition Enlightenment freedoms.
Part 3 puts forward the idea that the EDL is essentially a nationalist movement, and again ignores the central components of Counterjihad ideology that helped to shape the group. In many respects the EDL has a supranational vision. It is an organisation that seeks to unite people of all races and nationalities. It should come as no surprise that the EDL has attracted admiration across Europe, North America, and even as far away as non-Western India. It has been able to do this because it has cross-cultural appeal, something that a purely nationalist group would be incapable of achieving.
Much of the report focuses on what it considers the main preoccupation of the Counterjihad, the issue of ‘preserving European culture’. While this may be one of the goals of many EDL supporters, it is not the essence of its being. Its broader focus is reflected in the initiatives that the EDL has undertaken, including the establishment of the Jewish, Sikh, and LGBT Divisions and the way it actively encourages the participation of ethnic minorities. The EDL has even stated that it is a multicultural organisation.
This tendency is also reflected in its international diplomacy. It has been successful in its dealing with foreign organisations because its main focus has been Enlightenment values rather than nationalism. The vast majority of its work has focused on freedom of expression, equality before the law, women’s rights, the rights of the LGBT community, and animal cruelty, etc. It has been criticised for not being ‘nationalist’ by organisations that are demonstrably nationalist. The press and academia prefer to portray the EDL as ‘nationalist’ because that gives them the greatest opportunity to criticise it.
The report appears to claim that the EDL’s non-emphasis of nationalism is just a smokescreen, so desperate are its authors to depict the EDL as beyond the pale. Academics, politicians, and the media do not judge the EDL by its statements, its official policies, or its actions. They reach their conclusions based on what they have already decided about it, their own ideas about what such an organisation must be like.
If one cannot judge an organisation on the basis of what it says and what it does, then how can one possibly make a rational assessment of it?
The ‘Far Right’
The report includes standard references to the ‘far right’, Breivik, or the BNP — conflating all of them, and connecting all of them with the EDL.
Yet in their own selections of quotes and references, the authors repeatedly demonstrate that the EDL has nothing in common with these groups and individuals. On page 11:
It is worth noting that, even at this early stage in the group’s evolution, there was at least an acknowledgement that the majority of Muslims are not extremists, and an apparent disavowal of racist politics.
That hardly seems the ideology of the ‘far right’!
On page 14:
Under Robinson and Carroll there has been a clear and mostly effective drive to remove the lingering street-fighting and neo-Nazi elements from the group’s street demonstrations.
It goes on to quote a favourable comment from a senior police officer about the EDL’s efforts to cooperate with the police in order to avoid violence at demonstrations, which reflects well on Tommy Robinson and his supporters.
The report fails to note something that would have made the EDL look even better: almost all of the violence at demonstrations was instigated by members of radical leftist organisations, who did so to try to make the EDL look bad.
Yet the fact that the ICSR report is willing to include a positive evaluation from the police about the EDL proves that the authors are doing more than creating the typical smear job. Intentionally or otherwise, they have provided a favourable account of the EDL from British law-enforcement and other sources.
The EDL’s critics have commented on the declining numbers at their demonstrations. However, in the early days the EDL had had problems with Nazis/left wing provocateurs infiltrating demonstrations. The positive achievement of removing neo-Nazis is reflected in the following (inadvertently positive?) passage from the article:
The removal and alienation of the neo-Nazi and many of the street fighters has also resulted in a decline in the numbers of people that EDL rallies can attract.
This is clear evidence that the English Defence League have sacrificed numbers at demonstrations in order to actively rid the organisation of racists. This has helped bring the British Counterjihad closer to its libertarian and humanitarian roots as referred to earlier. The public statements made by EDL leader Tommy Robinson have always reflected these roots:
Through numerous interviews with mainstream media outlets he [Tommy Robinson] has attempted to present a clear, non-violent and ostensibly moderate message concerning the threat of radical Islam.
In the above quote, arbitrary prejudgement of the EDL is reflected in the addition of the words ‘attempted’ and ‘ostensible’ to throw into doubt the sincerity of his words. Academics and members of the media have their own prejudices that result in serious errors. In so doing they completely ignore the fact that the Counterjihad was solidly founded on liberal values. That the EDL has managed to capably steer itself back to that stance, despite the efforts of the provocateurs, should come as no surprise.
The ICSR paper seems to deliberately cast doubt on the fact that the decisions to establish its position was sincerely based on the liberal foundations of Counterjihad ideology. Yet the authors present the evidence for exactly that.
The report places a great emphasis on associations with the British National Party (BNP) — again as a tool to demonise the Counterjihad. The constant references to the BNP represent the time-honoured tactic of guilt by association.
Even so, the paper states on page 7:
…it is clear that a great deal of uncertainty remains regarding the true nature of the English Defence League (EDL) and its European affiliates.
This “uncertainty” about the EDL does not seem to deter the legacy media, who continue their standard demonization of the organisation’s ideals, its people, and its works, without any actual evidence.
Paul Ray, aka “Lionheart”
A key problem with the report is that it places far too much emphasis on Paul Ray. It draws attention to his utterances, such as those stating that the EDL is “against all devout Muslims”, as though they are representative of what the EDL is. In the end, Ray was side-lined by the EDL leadership because he was regarded as too extreme, and as such an embarrassment to the emerging organisation.
Ray’s subsequent assertion that the EDL had been taken over by neo-Nazis was without a doubt caused by their rejection of his approach, rather than what was happening in reality. Of course, the legacy media were desperate to believe his rantings, because his interpretation fit with their own warped views and false assumptions.
The authors make the ridiculous assertion that the British Counterjihad movement had its origins in Paul Ray’s ramblings on his “Lionheart” blog. Back in 2007, many in the Counterjihad community actually regarded his blog as too extreme and too focused on Crusader symbolism.
In reality, the British Counterjihad movement was established around the issue of freedom of speech. A key event in that process took place on Saturday 25 March, 2006. This was the March for Free Expression (MfFE), which was organised around a blog established for that purpose in the aftermath of the Danish Cartoon riots. That blog can be found atwww.marchforfreeexpression.blogspot.co.uk.
Blogs such as Up Pompeii, Western Resistance, and Harry’s Place, along with internationally-orientated blogs such as Infidel Bloggers Alliance, played a far more influential role in the early days than the Crusader stance of Lionheart and similar blogs.
The Counterjihad, in contrast to the Lionheart meme, was founded around mainstream issues of concern to broad swathes of the public. It was not founded simply in opposition to Islam; rather it arose specifically to protect liberal Western values that have since been significantly worn down due to pressure from Islamists, the radical Left, and opportunistic politicians.
European Freedom Initiative
The ICSR paper seems to miss the point when it discusses the European Freedom Initiative (EFI). The EFI was founded to protect freedom of expression, a fact the report fails to mention.
The EFI represented a broadening of Counterjihad efforts. It was established specifically to manage a demonstration in Amsterdam that was intended to bring together free speech activists from across Europe. The EDL were an important — though not a central — part of this effort. The EDL were one group amongst many at that event, and participated due to the commitment that they shared a common goal: to defend freedom of expression.
The first event staged by the EFI was actually organised in large part by members of the Dutch Defence League. It was also quite specifically focused, like the MfFE before it, on the issue of freedom of expression. In particular, it concerned the censorship of Geert Wilders when he was denied access to speak in the United Kingdom.
The EFI’s point about the threat to freedom of expression was underlined by the actions of the Mayor of Amsterdam, who moved the demonstration to a remote location at the last minute in order to make it less effective. The same point was made by the actions of the left wing Antifa mob that threatened serious violence in the run-up to the event.
The ICSR report makes an error in judgment when it assumes that the Counterjihad is based on a belief in an idealised past.
In reality the Counterjihad is based on a vision of a liveable future. In this way it is not looking to the past, but is moving forward. It is not concerned about losing what has been gained in the past, but about building the future on the foundations of the Enlightenment. Its focus on Islam rest on concerns about threats to these foundations.