The “counter-jihad” movement in the UK is expanding rapidly, according to new analysis showing that 24 different far-right groups are currently attempting to whip up hatred towards Muslims and provoke a cultural civil war.
The most comprehensive report yet into the alliance of international counter-jihad organisations warns that Islamophobic groups in Britain are capitalising on public concerns following the Paris attacks and ongoing refugee crisis.
Next month, the former leader of the English Defence League, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, often known by the pseudonym Tommy Robinson, will make his political comeback by fronting the relaunch of the UK arm of Pegida, the German anti-Islam organisation whose provocative rhetoric has prompted attacks on refugees.
The report, by the anti-racist group Hope Not Hate, chronicles 920 anti-Muslim organisations and key Islamophobes in 22 countries, noting that such groups are becoming increasingly well-resourced, particularly in the US, where eight foundations have donated more than £38m since the 9/11 attacks.
Nick Lowles, Hope Not Hate’s chief executive, warned that in Europe the hatred of Muslims “was moving from the margins to the political mainstream” while in the UK violence and prejudice against Muslims was likely to increase as far-right groups exploit tensions over immigration and homegrown jihadism.
“The very fabric of our multi- racial and multifaith societies is going to be severely tested in the next few years and it is incumbent on us all to strengthen the bonds that unify liberal democracies,” he said.
On Friday, Scotland Yard said Islamophobic attacks in London had more than tripled in the wake of the Paris attacks. The Metropolitan Police are still hunting a man who hurled a can of petrol at the Finsbury Park mosque last month in what the Met described as a “clear and deliberate attempt to cause arson”.
Among the UK organisations cited in the report for driving organised hatred against Muslims are the Infidels, an anti-multicultural group with increasing Nazi leanings; the South East Alliance, a non-sectarian group linked to the National Front; and the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based thinktank accused of “making anti-Muslim sentiment seem mainstream”.
Following the decline of the EDL, the report identifies Britain First as the most prolific counter-jihad street protest group in the UK. Despite employing provocative tactics that include invading mosques, it has more than 1.1 million “likes” on Facebook. Yaxley-Lennon, lauded as an inspirational figure by both the militant and political wings of the counter-jihad movement, has more than 109,000 followers on Twitter. Other UK-based groups include Liberty GB, an anti-immigration political party, whose chairman is Paul Weston, the former Ukip parliamentary candidate. He is named as a regular contributor to the Gates of Vienna blog, where he writes about impending civil war against Muslims and “white genocide” in Britain.
One worrying trend, said Lowles, is an attempt to use the publication of images involving the prophet Muhammad with the aim of generating a violent reaction from Muslims. He is concerned that the authorities are not taking things seriously. “Groups are becoming more right-wing, many on the verge of being openly Nazi, and yet they are still categorised as a public order problem rather than as the extreme far right,” Lowles said.
The report, released today, also documents the counter-jihad movement in the US, where there are 42 anti-Muslim groups, such as ACT for America and the New-York based American Freedom Defense Initiative, and in Australia, citing 12 groups, including the Q Society, a Victoria-based grassroots anti-Islamist organisation that claims volunteer-run chapters across the country.
Globally, anti-Muslim sentiment is growing in the wake of the attacks in Paris and concerns over the continuing refugee crisis. A study by the Pew Research Center thinktank in 2014 of seven European Union countries found that at least half of those surveyed in Italy and Greece had a negative opinion of Muslims living in their country, with the most favourable rating of 72% in France. But a YouGov poll in the spring of this year, after the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, showed 40% of French people held negative views of Muslims, the same level as in the UK.