Central London hosted the ‘Counter-Jihad’ movement analysis seminar on Tuesday (5th February 2013). Only minutes away from one of the July 7 2005 attack locations, the seminar was organised by the ‘Hope Not Hate’ campaign, a prominent social movement which campaigns against extremism, racism and fascism. The meeting analysed the threat of the global ‘Counter-Jihad’ movement and discussed developing community responses to it. Made up of loosely-affiliated far-right groups and members, the ‘Counter-Jihad’ movement is primarily based on the notion that Islam and Western society are incompatible and as a result, a ‘clash of cultures’ is beginning to come into play. Hope Not Hate has carried out extensive research on this movement and the scale of the threat it poses is alarming. This movement was not the only organisation under scrutiny. A number of speakers discussed the prevailing threat posed by Islamist extremist groups and how many of the groups affiliated to ‘Counter-Jihad’ were inaugurated as a response to the Islamist extremists.
The diverse range of speakers discussed the prevailing trends and developments of these extremist groups. Nick Lowles (Hope Not Hate) explained the concept of ‘Eurabia’. There is a growing Islamophobic belief in far-Right movements that Muslims are planning a mass cultural invasion of mainland Europe to establish a caliphate in the continent. The massive transformation of Europe’s demographics is playing into the concept of Eurabia, allowing Muslim immigrants to ‘flood’ in. This is the same conspiracy theory that inspired Anders Breivik in 2011, when his acts of terror against Norwegian multiculturalists claimed the lives of almost 100 people, mostly teenagers. Nick also highlighted the impact that some sectors of the media have in appeasing far-right ideas and concerns. An array of newspaper front-pages over the past decade from the Daily Star, the Daily Express, and the Daily Mail on the presentation screen explained the extent to which these media outlets feed and stimulate ‘Counter-Jihad’.
A police officer from the national online-hate-crime investigation unit (http://www.report-it.org.uk) informed the seminar of the growing number of hate-crime offences taking place online. Groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) are almost entirely based online on social media sites. There was an interesting presentation given by Matthew Collins (Hope Not Hate) entitled ‘The Rise and Demise of the EDL’. In it, he defined the EDL as an alliance of alcoholics, criminals, and anti-socials which inspired me to coin the term ‘English Disorder League’. The only thing that EDL protests have inspired is mass arrests. Generally support for the EDL is decreasing. The group’s anti-immigration leader Tommy Robinson was recently jailed in the UK for entering the US illegally (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-20935502) and this has, in a sense turned the EDL into a lost cause. It now has less than half the number of followers it had in 2011.
The seminar also examined the European dimension of far-right Islamophobia. Jean-Yves Camus (http://www.iris-france.org/cv.php?fichier=cv/cv2&nom=camus) described how anti-Muslim sentiment in France is not only a problem on the Right, but it is quite prevalent on the Left too. Political parties from both alignments have exploited these sentiments in recent years for their electoral expediency. Jean-Yves stated that ultimately this all boiled down to the fact that religion generally has a very weak standing in the country. After 9/11 Islam was considered as a threat of violence and terrorism but now it is considered as a cultural threat. As a result politicians have become hardliners against multiculturalism and have legislated against Islamic symbols such as the Hijab. Terrorism alone is no longer a catalyst for Islamophobia.
Among the many interesting speakers, Sara Khan (www.wewillinspire.com) gave a remarkable presentation on what she called ‘Muslim women as political pawns’. In her capacity as a frontline community worker, she explained how South Asian Muslim women suffer more prolonged domestic violence in comparison to white women and, that there is a transparent community-sanctioned silence on the issue. Some Muslim women experience Islamophobia in the wider society and then experience sexism within their own communities. Community organisations are doing a lot to tackle domestic violence but more should be done. The interesting aspect of her presentation was that in many cases the far-right has exploited the plight of these Muslim women to further its own agenda. This is not a new affair. During the colonial period, colonial agents used the plight of women in Muslim countries to further their ambitions. It is a discourse which now admits itself into the post-colonial paradigm. Sara believes that the Muslim woman wearing a face-veil has now become a symbol of Islam for the far-right. Far-right protesters often have placards displaying a veil-wearing Muslim woman to present their anti-Muslim rhetoric. The media too plays into this as front pages often have the same images when reporting news concerning Muslims. In reality, Sara observed that only a minority of Muslim women in Britain actually wear the face-veil but it is portrayed as an overwhelmingly dominant issue in the unfair and disproportionate news coverage.
In summary, this seminar gave a deep insight into the ‘Counter-Jihad’ movement. It is becoming popular and the movement is attracting activists even outside of Europe. Prominent Islamophobes such as Pamela Geller, an American, has proactively campaigned under the umbrella of ‘Counter-Jihad’. Essentially, the ideas and sentiments generated by this movement are counter-Islam and not counter-Jihad. It completely ignores the issues of misinterpretations by Islamists and attack Islam as a whole, religiously and culturally. This seminar was the first of its kind specifically focusing on this movement. It is hoped that it will lead to more active and intellectual discussions on the rise of Islamophobia and mainstream anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Khayer Chowdhury, Islamic Studies intern, Quilliam