Islamophobia in UK driving far-right rise

Advocacy group: Economic uncertainty has replaced immigration as main factor 

The threat from the far-right is a growing concern for anti-racism groups in the United Kingdom, and experts believe it has intensified as international events fuel right-wing ideology leading to hate crimes and Islamophobia.

According to experts from Hope Not Hate ( funded by George Soros), one of the UK’s largest anti-racism and anti-extremism organizations, Britain is becoming increasingly divided. It pointed out this trend was likely to continue regardless of the outcome of the 2016 Brexit referendum.

In recent years, far-right ideology has grown according to extremism experts, not just in the UK but also around Europe with populist and white nationalist parties becoming more prominent.

Imran Awan, a professor at Birmingham City University and a leading criminologist and expert on Islamophobia and extremism, told China Daily that attention had been taken off the far-right until recently, and that extremist groups have become more public with their use of social media to spread their ideology.

He drew attention to data from Prevent, a UK government-led program which aims to safeguard vulnerable people from being drawn into terrorist organizations.

“If you look at the UK’s Prevent referral, there is now an increase of (actions of) the far-right, but if you looked at the Prevent policy 10 years ago, it said the biggest threat was Islamist ideology,” Awan said.

According to Home Office statistics, hate crimes in England and Wales increased by 17 percent in 2017-18 from the previous period, with 76 percent recorded as race hate crimes.

British Home Office figures showed that between April 2016 and March 2017, 6,093 individuals were referred to the government’s Prevent program. Of those who received support from Channel, an intervention program, over one-third were due to far-right concerns.

Experts identify economic decline and difficulties as key driving forces of fear and hate.

“Economic downturn can easily be converted into resentment toward others. Immigration was a key driver of the Brexit vote, and although concerns have relaxed, a worsening in economic conditions with less money available for public services could see concerns about immigration re-emerge with even more force,” said Rosie Carter of Hope Not Hate.

Some social media companies have taken action by removing far-right groups and leaders from their platforms.

In March, Facebook announced a “ban on praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism on Facebook and Instagram”.

The company added: “Our policies have long prohibited hateful treatment of people based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity or religion-and that has always included white supremacy.”

Those from the UK banned on the social media platform include The British National Party and its ex-leader Nick Griffin, Britain First, English Defence League and Jack Renshaw, a neo-Nazi who plotted to murder a Labour member of Parliament and was exposed by Hope not Hate.

But Hope Not Hate said there remains an upward trend in online hate and it will continue to rise this year.

Hope Not Hate also raised concerns that anti-Muslim sentiment has replaced opposition to immigrants as the key driver of far-right growth, adding that the extreme far-right is getting “more extreme and younger” and believes far-right groups are “successfully tapping into the political rage and discontent that is prevalent in society”.

Narratives with terms such as “betrayal” and “traitors” have dominated the far-right’s discourse.

“The far-right uses rhetoric such as ‘taking our jobs, stealing our jobs’ or that white national identity is being suppressed,” Awan added, citing the Christchurch killings in New Zealand where the attacker mentioned the theory of “the great replacement” in his manifesto.

“Brexit was a divisive issue and was used by the far-right, by people such as (politician) Nigel Farage, to create a ‘them-verses-us narrative’, for example, with the ‘breaking point’ poster he used. This is the narrative used successfully by Donald Trump in the US,” said Awan.

“It’s a worry that people, especially in Europe and in the UK, have fallen prey to the idea that minorities are the problem here, that immigration and migrants are the issue.”

Hope Not Hate says the threat of far-right terrorism comes from both organized groups such as National Action and from lone individuals who get radicalized via internet sites and messages.

While the anti-racism group said the number of terror-related offices in 2018 has gone down from the previous year, it claims there is still a growing threat from the far-right.

Islamophobia is also on the up with the 2017 terrorist attacks having a lasting “negative impact on attitudes toward British Muslims”.

“There are these trigger events and what happens is, you get retaliation, normally spiking in the first 24 to 48 hours (after a terrorist event) quite heavily against the group that has been perceived to be linked to terrorism,” Awan said. “Through my research, I found that, for example, lots of Muslim women with their headscarf, the hijab, have said they’ve been abused and it’s often straight after an international terrorist attack.”

Nick Lowles, chief executive of Hope Not Hate, commented in the report: “While the government has spoken out against Islamophobia, and overseen a more robust reporting system within the police and government departments, it needs to do more to better educate their own members and challenge their negative views.”

The most recent focus for the group was the European elections and the political parties on the far and radical right, which Hope Not Hate said were seeking to exploit tensions and divisions over Brexit.

Lowles said: “The way our politicians have dealt with Brexit, or probably more accurately not dealt with Brexit, has deepened the anger at our political class.”

In a poll taken out by the group, it found only 2 percent of people were impressed with the way politicians were handling Brexit and 89 percent were unimpressed.

“With such negative attitudes toward the political system and our politicians, it is perhaps not surprising that the far-right is effectively mining this anti-establishment seam,” Lowles added.