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Loud and proud

Passion and politics in the English Defence League

Hilary Pilkington

‘Loud and proud’: Politics and passion in the English Defence League is a study of grassroots activism in what is widely considered to be a violent Islamophobic and racist organisation.

The book uses interviews, informal conversations and extended observation at EDL events to critically reflect on the gap between the movement’s public image and activists’ own understandings of it. It details how activists construct the EDL, and themselves, as ‘not racist, not violent, just no longer silent’ inter alia through the exclusion of Muslims as a possible object of racism on the grounds that they are a religiously not racially defined group. In contrast activists perceive themselves to be ‘second-class citizens’, disadvantaged and discriminated by a ‘two-tier’ justice system that privileges the rights of ‘others’. This failure to recognise themselves as a privileged white majority explains why ostensibly intimidating EDL street demonstrations marked by racist chanting and nationalistic flag waving are understood by activists as standing ‘loud and proud’; the only way of ‘being heard’ in a political system governed by a politics of silencing.

Unlike most studies of ‘far right’ movements, this book focuses not on the EDL as an organisation – its origins, ideology, strategic repertoire and effectiveness – but on the individuals who constitute the movement. Its ethnographic approach challenges stereotypes and allows insight into the emotional as well as political dimension of activism. At the same time, the book recognises and discusses the complex political and ethical issues of conducting close-up social research with ‘distasteful’ groups.

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‘Their way or no way’

Anti-Islam and anti-Muslim sentiments

Hilary Pilkington

of multicultural society. This has led to the conclusion that ‘the EDL is clearly Islamophobic’ (Allen, 2011: 293) and, although having successfully accommodated aspects of the diversity of contemporary multicultural Britain and not espousing a traditionally racist ideology, promotes a form of ‘new racism’ or ‘cultural racism’ (2011: 293). This chapter starts by critically outlining debates about how we define and measure ‘Islamophobia’, focusing on the question of whether Islamophobia is a new, and distinct, phenomenon or consists primarily in anti

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Series:

Catherine Baker

-trafficking campaigns already targeting this node in the ‘migration–security nexus’ in the late 1990s, the convergence of migration policy and understandings of security had already begun before 9/11, when the meanings of Islam in the Yugoslav region would intersect with transnational racialised Islamophobia. Racialised Islamophobia and the Yugoslav region before and after 9/11 The expansion of the ‘migration–security nexus’ through governments and international institutions, after 9/11, made ‘Muslims’ and people ascribed a Muslim appearance

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Introduction

Transgressing the cordon sanitaire: understanding the English Defence League as a social movement

Hilary Pilkington

relation to empirical evidence of rising ‘Islamophobia’ among the wider UK population. The chapter describes the ethnographic approach adopted in the book, which is distinguished by a focus not on organisational structure and ideology but individual activists. The analytic emphasis on the meanings individuals attach to activism, it is argued, not only brings insight into how politics 2 Loud and proud: passion and politics in the EDL and passion are intertwined in the movement but, in so doing, may open avenues for challenging prejudices and stereotypes that constrain

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Introduction

Redefining security in the Middle East

Series:

Tami Amanda Jacoby and Brent E. Sasley

differences between Islam as a spiritual faith and Islamism as a politicized form of religion with tendencies to neo-absolutism and violence. This chapter explores fundamental issues related to Islamophobia and the West, the relationship between Islam and democracy, and circumstances for groups and parties to gain political power and effect social change through indigenous tools and symbols. The intricate

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Between Islam and Islamism

A dialogue with Islam as a pattern of conflict resolution and a security approach vis-à-vis Islamism

Series:

Bassam Tibi

of the earlier Soviet studies ( Fuller and Lesser, 1995 ). Students of IR concerned with the study of the Middle East and those who have turned to focus on Islamic civilization are caught, however, between a tremendously increasing Islamophobia in the West and the need to inquire into the threats to security by what is termed ‘Islamism’. Those who study Islamism while dealing with security are thus

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The Jewish question after the Holocaust

Jürgen Habermas and the European left

Robert Fine and Philip Spencer

antisemitism’ was being used to ‘translate what one is actually hearing, a protest against the killing of children and civilians by the Israeli army, into nothing more than a cloak for hatred of Jews’. 35 The cultural historian Matti Bunzl contended that the focus on antisemitism deflects attention from the ‘real racisms’ coursing through postnational Europe, especially the Islamophobia fuelled by social forces that brought millions of Muslims to Europe and based on

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Conclusion

Passion and politics

Hilary Pilkington

whether this hostility is directed at Muslims as members of particular ethnic groups or ‘immigrants’ rather than against Muslims as a religious group – as suggested by Halliday’s (1999) preference for the term ‘anti-Muslimism’ over Islamophobia – is more complex. Explicit racialisation, in the form of abusive rhetoric, is identified among a number of respondents alongside the equally explicit rejection of any such racialisation and abuse among others. Similarly, the association of Muslims with violence and terror by some is accompanied by a rhetoric of differentiation

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Introduction

Universalism and the Jewish question

Robert Fine and Philip Spencer

or Islamophobia and it may not be helpful to reduce them all to a generic concept like ‘prejudice’, partly because every form of prejudice has its own distinctive characteristics and partly because the idea of ‘prejudice’ does not capture all that is involved in these phenomena. To say, however, that they are not the same does not mean that they are not connected or best understood in relation to one another. A sense of the connectedness of racism and

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Hilary Pilkington

Introduction). Nonetheless, existing literature suggests that racism and Islamophobia are commonplace among the EDL’s ‘rank and file’ (Garland and Treadwell, 2010: 27–30). This view appeared to be confirmed when, in October 2013, Tommy Robinson cited frustration at a long but unsuccessful struggle to rid the movement of racists and extremists as the reason for his resignation as co-leader.2 Thus, for Allen (2011: 294), while the EDL might be ‘more fluid and reflexive than other far-right organizations, it maintains an ideological premise that is typically discriminatory