Intel Brief: Ethnic Tensions in the UK

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Violent clashes between anti-Islamic demonstrators and groups of Muslim counter-protesters in English cities in recent weeks indicate that violent right extremism is on the rise in the UK.

The growing number of far-right activists target Muslim and immigrant groups more frequently, and the latter are increasingly willing to fight back. The extremist groups will likely pose a significant security threat in the UK in the near future, not due to their manpower, but to their tactics.

English Defence League (EDL) members have been deliberately trying to provoke a response from ethnic minorities in order to create wider violence and mayhem. Indeed, they have already announced more protests in London, Luton, Manchester and Leeds in the coming weeks.

A number of anti-Islamic demonstrations across the UK in recent weeks, which resulted in violent clashes and significant property damage, indicate that ethnic tensions have been escalating.

Late on 9 August, demonstrators protesting against Islamic fundamentalism clashed with campaigners from Unite Against Fascism (UAF) in the center of Birmingham. Police arrested 35 members of English and Welsh Defence Leagues and Casuals United. Violent confrontations resulted in a number of assaults on passersby, and there were reports of property damage.

On 5 September, authorities in Birmingham arrested 90 people following a demonstration organized by EDL to protest against Islamic extremism. After a peaceful march, members and supporters of the group engaged in violent clashes with Muslim youths. A crowd of more than 200 people threw bottles and stones, engaged in scuffles, fights and attacks targeting riot police.

Mohammad Naseem, the chairperson of Birmingham Central Mosque, the most senior Muslim leader in West Midlands, encouraged his community members to organize counter-demonstrations, against assurances from the Muslim leaders to the West Midlands police that they would discourage such actions.

Stop the Islamisation of Europe (SIOE), supported by groups of skinheads and the EDL, held another anti-Islamist rally outside the Harrow Mosque in a northwestern suburb of London on 11 September, while UAF organized a counter-demonstration to show solidarity with the Muslim community.

Reports differ, but it appears that the protesters outnumbered the anti-Muslim campaigners. During the clashes, the authorities arrested more than 10 people, including nine for possession of weapons.

While authorities examine CCTV footage from the events and considerimposing a travel ban on those responsible, these measures are unlikely to have much effect. Most of the activists who engage in disorderly incidents are usually masked or hooded, which makes their identification impossible.

EDL, a relatively unknown organization until this summer, has grown rapidly and chaotically since then. It seems to have a core membership of approximately 200, scattered in groups in Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds and Luton. Using networking websites, they have established links with British Citizens Against Muslim Extremists, another extremist group based in Birmingham.

The group claims its goal is to peacefully protest against Islamist extremism. Following recent riots in Birmingham, they announced they would not organize any more events there, due to the potential for violence in that city. However, they have engaged in violent attacks in the past, causing damage to Asian businesses and smashing vehicles (i.e. in Luton). The group appears to be interested in provoking ethnic tensions to the point of violence, despite their stated goals. At the same time, they are careful with their actions, manipulating events in order to blame their opponents for any disorderly occurrences.

To increase their strength at such events, it is highly possible that EDL activists will soon (if they have not already) reach out to gangs of football hooligans. Casuals United, a Welsh football firm, already has formed some links with EDL. The group members are becoming more confident and have already announced plans to rally in Luton, Leeds, Manchester and London in the coming weeks.

These extremist groups tend to advertise their upcoming rallies and demonstrations on their websites, and use social networking sites to spread the information. However, their attendance at the events usually does not exceed 100 protesters. Muslim communities, on the other hand, outraged by the racist and discriminative slogans, organize themselves and come to these events in large groups, ready for violence.

Recently, a member of the British Cabinet said that the rise in right-wing anti-Islamist militancy carries is reminiscent of the fascist attempts to increase fear in the Jewish parts of London in the 1930s.

John Denham, secretary of state for Communities and Local Government, suggested that British far-right organizations have been trying to provoke violent responses from ethnic minorities and further widen divisions. While the magnitude of their actions cannot be compared to that of the fascists, the security risk they pose should not be underestimated.

Weyman Bennett, UAF's national secretary, also has accused the anti-Islamic groups, particularly SIOE and EDL, of trying to spark ethnic conflict. And in July, a senior counterterrorism official warned that extreme-right activists were planning a major incident that would fuel ethnic tensions.

The British government has implemented a number of initiatives aimed at minority integration, particularly in the Muslim community, following the suicide bombings in London in 2005. Despite these efforts, violent right extremism has been on the rise. continues here

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