Dr Ilyas Mohammed argues that the far-right is looking for soft Islamic targets to attack in its Islamophobic crusade.
Cumulative extremism is a process through which different forms of “extremism” interact and can potentially produce a spiral of violence. In most debates concerning this issue, Islamists are juxtaposed with far-right groups such as the English Defense League.
Often it is presumed that the EDL and their increasing popularity is a product of the 7/7 attacks and groups such as Muslims Against Crusaders (MAC). This explanation is valid to some extent, but on this basis, one would expect the EDL to attack Islamist groups and not target the wider Muslim community, which is opposed to any form of extremism.
There were incidents where the EDL and members of MAC clashed prior to MAC being banned in November 2011, but even during this period there are also cases of EDL members attacking Muslims.
However, in the last few months, although at this stage it is not clear if EDL members are responsible, it is symbols of Islam that have been attacked rather than violent attacks on Muslims themselves. Unlike the previous generation of Muslims that tended to shy away from reporting incidents of hate crime because they did not want reprisal attacks, the new generation has no such anxiety and actively reports hate crime, sets up campaigns and organizations to counter far-right groups, and disseminates information about hate attacks through social media.
Islamic symbols are targeted not because there are no Muslims to attack, there are nearly two million living across the UK but as a strategic decision. Far-right groups are aware that Muslims were extremely offended by Salman Rushdie’s novel “The Satanic Verses” (1988) and the depictions of Prophet Muhammad (saw) by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005.
Thus the types of hate crime that are currently being reported include leaving suspicious packages in mosques and pigs heads inside people’s homes, arson attacks on mosques and spraying offensive graffiti on the exterior of mosques and Muslim cemeteries. By targeting Islamic symbols and spaces of reverence, all these were able to generate moral-panic and moral outrage among the wider Muslim community. This tactic is low risk but has maximum impact.
Individuals holding far-right views have learned from the experiences of other groups that violent attacks are counter-productive; instead, soft targets such as mosques are more suitable and simple to attack. They are symbols of Islam and of “Muslimness” being part of the social fabric that constitutes the plasticity of “Britishness”, and also a concrete example of the increasing organization and size of the Muslim community in Britain.
Cumulative extremism in the main is not a product of Islamist activism but is rather a politics engendered by the increasing sociopolitical and cultural visibility of Muslims in the UK, coupled with the politics of immigration and security.
This climate is also encouraged by right-wing politicians and media, which want to foment a politics of suspicion and create suspect communities. This type of politics and far-right extremism has little to do with the concerns its advocates espouse, and more with little “Englandism” and an unwillingness to accept the ever-changing geography and social fabric of the UK.