We should be at the vanguard of the battle against Islamist extremism, shaping the fight in the interest of tolerance, equality and human rights.
HOPE not hate has been speaking out against Islamist extremism since 2010 and we then published our first major report, Gateway to Terror: Anjem Choudary and the al-Muhajiroun network in 2013, which exposed the violence and terrorism at the heart of the al-Muhajiroun (ALM) international network.
In 2014, we also published Cheerleading for IS: Anjem Choudary and al-Muhajiroun’s support for the Islamic State outlining how ALM was a major recruiting network for the then expanding Islamic State.
Regarding our work the Commission for Countering Extremism stated:
Despite the loud noise from the Far Right when it comes to tackling Islamist extremism, it is groups like Hope Not Hate that have carried out vital work in exposing Islamist extremists in our country, as opposed to engaging in anti-Muslim bigotry on social media. The anti-racist group did phenomenal work in identifying the scale of activism carried out by the now proscribed group Al-Muhajiroun.
During the course of our research, we attended countless Islamist extremist demonstrations at which we heard and saw vile antisemitism, homophobia and misogyny, often far worse than anything we heard on the English Defence League (EDL) demonstrations we had also been covering for years.
We could make the argument that anti-fascists should be vocal opponents of Islamist extremists because hate preachers like Anjem Choudary function as a driver of far-right extremism. This is of course true; the EDL emerged in direct opposition to ALM. But for this to be the sole reason to speak out would be tactically and, more importantly, morally wrong.
Put simply, we have to mobilise against Islamist extremists because it is the only consistent position and the only way to stay true to our core values; it is our duty as anti-fascists.
Over the last few years we have all seen the harrowing footage of Islamist fanatics sweeping through vast areas of Iraq and Syria like a sandstorm, butchering, raping and murdering their way across the region. In the wake of the fall of Mosul to Islamic State HOPE not hate went to Northern Iraq to see for ourselves the suffering and oppression, producing a magazine special titled Life on the Run from the Islamic State.
Like the stories of fascist oppression from the 20th century that we are all familiar with, we heard stories about the murder and persecution of people, not for what they had done, but because of who they are. Shia Muslims, Assyrian, Syriac, Chaldean and Armenian Christians, Yazidis, Druze, Mandeans and Shabaks have all been mercilessly put to the sword.
While the tactics (both military and propaganda) used by Islamist extremists both in the UK and abroad are markedly modern, their ideology is fundamentally rooted in a strident rejection of progressive notions of democracy, equality of gender and sexuality and freedom of religion. We have all watched in horror at the forced imposition of this barbaric values system within the Islamic State, manifesting as torture, beheading, crucifixion, and the enslavement and rape of women being conducted on a near genocidal scale.
HOPE not hate has shown how UK Islamist extremists have played a key role in recruiting European fighters to get involved in this violence abroad and how Choudary and ALM have inspired bloodshed on the streets of the UK.
The anti-fascist response
Anti-fascists of all political backgrounds have traditionally united in condemning and fighting fascist antisemitism, racism, homophobia, sexism and totalitarianism, no matter how these far-right groups look, dress or even define themselves. In the case of Islamist extremism, this has yet to be the case.
While some anti-fascists have long opposed Islamist extremists and there are welcome signs that the left more generally in the UK are slowly waking up to this as an issue, we must raise our voices much louder and claim this as our fight. People in the communities in which HOPE not hate organise are angry about this issue and want us to speak about it. Anti-fascists should be at the vanguard of the battle against Islamist extremism, shaping the fight in the interest of tolerance, equality and human rights.
If we do not make this one of the anti-fascist issues of our age, we will be conceding the battlefield to those who seek to use this issue for the promotion of intolerance, bigotry and racism. We have already seen how the British National Party sort to exploit this issue for their own fascistic aims and how the EDL formed in response to ALM. Last year we witnessed the Football Lads Alliance emerge in response to terrorist attacks.
If we don’t speak about these issues then the only voices that concerned people will hear will be groups like these. As such, as well as raising our voices against Islamist extremists we must also challenge anyone who seeks to use this issue to attack the wider Muslim community, the vast majority of whom have no time whatsoever for the likes of Choudary.
Those who went to Spain in the 1930s to confront fascism were often called “premature anti-fascists” as they saw the dangers of not confronting evil, hatred and the threat to the international working class before most others.
The tortures, rapes and mass murders carried out by Islamic State and the terrorist attacks carried out by violent Islamists in the UK and Europe are well documented, making it rather too late to become “premature” anti-Islamists. But, if the anti-fascist movement does not wake up and unite in the face of this hatred, we risk being caught on the wrong side of history.
Dr Joe Mulhall is Senior Researcher at HOPE not hate. Formerly he was a visiting lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London where he also completed his PhD on the postwar far right. He has published extensively on the international far right and discussed his research on the BBC, CNN and Channel 4 news among others. If you have a tip, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org