THE NEW YORKER: Uglie Olde England

JUNE 27, 2011

In this week’s New Yorker, a searing story by Lauren Collins about the town of Luton, which is blazing trails in the new frontiers of Euro-racism. Unemployment, underemployment and culture have played parts in creating a festering mutual hate.  Muslims, for their part, contribute as well. A very good read. Abstract here:

LETTER FROM LUTON about the English Defence League and the rise of the Islamophobic right in Great Britain. In February, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, delivered a speech on Islamist extremism to the delegates of the forty-seventh Munich Security Conference. In Cameron’s view, the “process of radicalization” that prompted someone like primary-school teaching assistant Mohammad Sidique Khan to blow up a train was a crisis of identity, precipitated by the erosion of the British character. Repudiating multiculturalism has lately become obligatory among European leaders. According to a survey commissioned by the German Marshall Fund of the U.S., anxiety about immigration is more acute in Britain than in any other European country surveyed. And, as in the rest of Europe, in Britain—where the Muslim population has increased by seventy-four per cent, from 1.6 million to an estimated 2.8 million since 2001—concern about immigration is often a euphemism for concern about Islam. Fifty-two per cent of respondents to a poll of five thousand believed that Muslims create problems in their country. In an unseemly coincidence, as Cameron spoke thousands of Britons were preparing to take to the streets in Luton, thirty miles north of London. The occasion was the latest in a series of marches organized by a two-year-old group called the English Defence League. The E.D.L. bills itself as “a human rights organization that exists to protect the inalienable rights of all people to protest against radical Islam’s encroachment into the lives of non-Muslims.” Labour M.P. Jon Cruddas has called the E.D.L. “a dangerous cocktail of football hooligans, far-right activists, and pub racists.” The E.D.L.’s twenty-four demonstrations, in cities across the country, have resulted in hundreds of arrests. The writer spoke with Tommy Robinson, the E.D.L.’s leader (his real name is Stephen Lennon), in a pub called Charlie Browns. “We are the voice of the English people,” Robinson said. The E.D.L. has attracted more than ninety thousand supporters on Facebook, but it does not keep formal rolls. Unlike the Tea Party in America, the E.D.L. does not want to overthrow the Establishment. Its ideology is paradoxical, advocating revolt as a means of preserving the status quo. For now, the E.D.L. revels in the adrenal romance of vigilantism. Mentions Abdul Qadeer Baksh, the chairman of the Islamic Luton Center. Robinson hopes to export the E.D.L.’s brand of nationalist vigilantism to the rest of Europe, and beyond. Describes the E.D.L. march in Luton in February of this year. In mid-April, Cameron gave another major speech on immigration, in which he vowed to confront the “discomfort and disjointedness” that immigrants had created in British neighborhoods.