A new working class Anti-Islamic grass-roots organization has got the British government seriously rattled within months of its formation. The English Defense League (EDL) has generally been ignored by the UK's mainstream media who have seemingly followed government policy by under-playing the organization's influence, in the hope of starving it of the oxygen of publicity. This is similar to Margaret Thatcher's attitude toward the IRA, but this time appears to be failing in the face of new social networking channels on the Internet which weren't available during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Since its formation less than six months ago in the town of Luton, approximately an hour north of London, the group has succeeded in holding a number of noisy street protests with hundreds of participants. These have attracted counter-demonstrations and subsequent clashes involving scores of people, resulting in dozens of arrests and police authorities forced to take extraordinary steps to identify potential ring-leaders and core followers.
The EDL has so far largely defied classification despite efforts by the authorities and mainstream media to paint its members as being primarily racist soccer hooligans and right-wing thugs. In reality, it appears to be an odd mix of frustrated, disenfranchised, mainly young white working class males. Their spontaneous and poorly organized reaction is to calls by UK-based Muslim fundamentalists who want to implement Sharia Law and ultimately turn the country into a Muslim nation.
The EDL appears to be a single issue movement in a new pseudo-religious war against extreme Islam. The organization claims to welcome members from all races & religions but odd publicity stunts and video footage of street protests reveal the group is much more fragmented and complicated than it first appears - much like the rest of British society.
Followers can be seen at demonstrations giving Nazi salutes. Yet others have made a point of publicly burning swastikas. Some drape themselves in Israeli flags and are clearly anti-Palestinian. All seem united in their ubiquitous chant 'we want our country back'. Many sport skin-head haircuts and wear 'bovver boots' so typical of right wing British National Party supporters, which the EDL leadership has distanced itself from. The BNP, in turn, has proscribed its members from joining the EDF. Clearly there is a struggle for the hearts and minds of potential members.
EDF paraphernalia such as T-shirts, hoodies, and base-ball caps exhibit eerily similar motifs to Loyalist groups in Northern Ireland - with use of the St.George's Crusader Cross and the words 'No surrender to al-qaeda'
British authorities are clearly rattled by the speedy rise of a new movement which they can't conveniently pigeon-hole or contain. White working class males, if they have voted at all, have in the past been content to place their trust mainly in New Labour, to a lesser extent with the Conservatives, and more recently with the rising BNP. These organizations now see themselves increasingly under threat from the ELD which refuses to play the political game by taking their protests to the street and appealing directly to disgruntled white working class males who increasingly see themselves as betrayed by a remote and elitist political establishment.
Tried and tested methods of controlling traditional political opposition such as the use of propaganda, bribery, intimidation, and white-leadership cells may not work so effectively with the EDL
This may be the first time that most American readers have heard of the English Defense League but a new force has definitely entered the stale world of British politics. It remains to be seen if this grass-roots organization takes off and succeeds in its apparent aim of provoking a violent backlash from British Muslims. By effectively by-passing what is increasingly seen as an ineffective political process the EDL has set the UK political establishment a real problem in the coming months.