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English 'Til I Die
Al Jazeera investigates the rise of the English Defence League.
Last Modified: 26 Oct 2011 15:43

In English 'Til I Die filmmaker Awad Joumaa examines the rise of the English Defence League. Here he explains why the growth of the far right in Europe can no longer be ignored.

For several years I have been intrigued by the rise of the far right across Europe.

In England, I have watched the emergence of a group called the English Defence League - or EDL. I have tracked their demonstrations and seen their numbers grow.

In 2010, I made a film about this far right group for Al Jazeera's Arabic channel. The EDL declined to be interviewed for it.

At that point the group had been largely ignored by the mainstream media.

But all that changed after July 22, 2011 - when Anders Behring Breivik, a Norwegian right wing extremist, killed more than 70 people in a bombing and shooting spree. Breivik boasted about his links to the EDL in a manifesto he posted online.

Suddenly the EDL was in the spotlight and questions were being asked. From where had this group - with a seemingly hate-filled rhetoric - emerged? How had an atmosphere of fear and anxiety taken root in a country known for its colonial past and yet today troubled by a gloomy economic future?

"Some people say we've got to find a British identity. Where? Which one is it? ... I mean the British identity is like the British weather. You look up [at] the sky and you know it's the weather, you know today it was raining and now it's sunny and it could snow by the evening. Right, you know it's British weather. But you can't really define it. That's what I think Britain is like. You know when you're British because you live here, you see the whole melting pot, but to put your finger on it and define it so easily is impossible."

Benjamin Zephaniah, poet 

During my travels around England, I met young people and old, critics and supporters of the EDL. All agreed that the EDL and the far right can no longer be ignored.

The group has organised more than 20 large protests in English cities, including London, Birmingham and Manchester. 

Its leaders claim it is a peaceful organisation, but as the EDL gains support, Muslim communities have found themselves feeling increasingly targeted.

Mosques have been vandalised and in some places, images of swastikas and the words EDL have been sprayed on walls.

"The EDL have the potential to become a serious threat but if British people allow them to become one. They are dangerous because they're innovative about how they draw attention away from their true beliefs."

A researcher for anti-fascist group UK Fightback

The group plays on nationalist and religious sentiments, drawing on symbols from the time of the Crusades, when Christian Europe united to fight Islam in the Holy Land.

And its 'us versus them' rhetoric has proved compelling both in England and further afield where the group has forged links with influential far right groups in Europe and the US.


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