In Depth

Does Britain need an anti-Nazi ‘resistance movement’?

Anti-Nazi League says need for campaign opposing racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism is ‘urgent’, but not everyone is convinced

The Anti-Nazi League has joined forces with a number of high-profile politicians to call for a national campaign to counter the “rising threat of racism and fascism in the UK”.

The group, which was founded in 1977 in response to the rise of the far-right National Front, wrote in a letter to The Guardian that Britain “needs a broader-based, imaginative and vibrant campaign that unequivocally opposes [the] racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism” raised in the country’s political discourse by figures such as Tommy Robinson.

The letter warns of the danger posed by the former English Defence League leader, who was jailed this year, and “his international backers”, and claims similar movements in Germany, Austria, Hungary and Italy highlight the urgent need for the formation of a national anti-fascist movement.

“Echoes of the 1930s are all too real,” it adds.

Earlier this month, shadow chancellor John McDonnell warned that “we no longer ignore the rise of far right politics in our society” and added: “It’s time for an Anti-Nazi League-type cultural and political campaign to resist”.

Advocacy group Hope Not Hate reported in March that “far-right terrorism is on the rise in the United Kingdom” and some of the facts support this claim. In 2017, 28 far-right sympathisers were arrested on or convicted of terrorism-related charges and other offences - a record high.

However, not everyone agrees fascism is becoming mainstream. Time Magazine reports that, although their online presence may have grown, “membership and active support for far-right groups such as the British National Party and Britain First is at its lowest point in 25 years”.

Al Jazeera suggests the far-right movement is in fact far smaller than it appears, and its size and impact are inflated by “excessive” media coverage.

The news channel notes that Darren Osborne, a far-right extremist who killed one person and injured eight more in a vehicle attack on Finsbury Park mosque last year, “had been in email contact with [Robinson] just days before the attack”. Yet “British broadcasters saw nothing wrong with interviewing Robinson, giving him air time the day after the attack and again after the trial concluded”, says the channel.

Al Jazeera concludes: “And when the broadcast media, even with the best of journalistic intentions, put the likes of Tommy Robinson on their air so that they can grill him, they find they cannot do so without giving him the exposure he craves.”

Justin Murphy, assistant professor at the University of Southampton, echoes the broadcaster’s findings: “We found that media coverage is a predictor of public support in future periods, but we did not find any evidence that public support is a predictor of media coverage.

“So there appears to be a unique causal effect between media coverage of these far right-wing populist parties and their rise in electoral significance.”

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