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Latest update : 2009-11-23

Britain’s escalating extremism

A new organisation is taking on radical Muslims in the United Kingdom. The English Defence League’s movement is slowly gaining ground across the country, as its members protest against those who want to impose Sharia law across Britain.

The Queen of England, a Muslim convert? Buckingham Palace, a mosque?

That’s what Islamist extremists in Britain, such as Anjem Choudary, have been calling for. They want Sharia law imposed across the country, with every man, woman and child conforming to the strict Islamic code when in the public arena.

But not if the English Defence League can help it.

Luton is a small, multicultural town about an hours drive north of London. In March 2009, the Second Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment paraded here to mark the end of their tour in Iraq. Their return home was met with pride - and protests.

A group of Muslim protestors had gathered, some bearing placards declaring the soldiers “Baby killers” for having gone to Iraq. This highly-charged event gave birth to an organisation called the United People of Luton, soon to become the English Defence League.

With members and divisions now spread across the UK, the EDL calls for all Islamist extremists to be banned and hold protests all over the country to raise their profile.

Many of these demonstrations have turned violent. Little wonder, given the EDL’s choice of clothing: makeshift “burkhas”, designed to both protect their own identities and to provoke the Muslim community.

The group they are most vehemently opposed to is ‘Islam 4 UK’, led by Anjem Choudary. Choudary is a self-proclaimed judge in some of the UK’s 85 Sharia courts and teaches up and down the country with the London School of Sharia.

The Islam 4 UK website reveals pictures of how his followers see Britain in future: Islamic flags fly from London’s best known monuments, while Buckingham Palace is redesigned with a minaret.

Choudary and his supporters also hold protests, chanting slogans such as ‘Freedom Go to Hell’ and ’Democracy Hypocrisy’.

But such is the level of tolerance in the UK that both sides will be allowed to have their say – as long as they stay on the right side of the law.

And staying on the right side of the law is the all-important rule that has allowed Islam 4 UK, as well as the EDL, to campaign as hard as they have. Freedom of speech is a principle that the British public are reluctant to give up, even if the consequences are extremist propaganda and violence. That is what allows Choudary to say in our video that he is aligned with al-Qaida, and what allows the EDL to chant ‘Islam Out’ in their protests.

Choudary in particular knows just how far he can go while still remaining within the confines of the law. At the end of our interview, he asked us how soon we would be forwarding the tape to the police, although he wasn’t worried; he hadn’t “said anything too illegal anyway”.

The EDL is opposed to his beliefs and to the fact that he is impressing them on young Muslims all over the country. They are incensed that he can convert an 11 year old boy to Islam on a busy shopping street and go unchallenged. They abhor the fact that he refuses to condemn the 7/7 London bombers and that Sharia courts can exist alongside British courtrooms.  

While they remain a relatively minority group, their message is resonating with some people across the UK and it remains to be seen how large the EDL movement can grow.

By Kate WILLIAMS , James ANDRE

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