The far Right, using information from an anti-extremist student body, is trying to sabotage Islamic events.
Casuals United, under the guise of No Platform for Islamic ‘hate preachers’, has been distributing the addresses and phone numbers of the venues, from Newcastle to Reading, Birmingham to Essex, where Islamic preachers are billed or Muslim educative days are planned and urging their readers to bombard organisers with tracts on ‘creeping Sharia’ and appeals to cancel the events. When the power of long-distance harassment doesn’t work, they threaten to demonstrate – and do.
Others in far-right movements are taking their cue from the Casuals. Britain First (BF), whose key personnel are made up of disaffected ex-BNP figures, has recently been rallying under the banner of the English National Resistance (ENR), founded during a string of ongoing demonstrations outside the home of Abu Qatada. It unites BF, the English Volunteer Force, the South East alliance (an EDL splinter group), Casuals United and EDL members. This alliance, which describes itself as ‘the “SAS” of patriotic politics’, plans to pick up what the Casuals started. It has launched Operation Fightback, which aims at turning the English National Resistance into a flying picket ‘to bring the struggle to [extremists’] doorsteps … to expose their venues, to lobby newspapers, to locate and publicise their extremist meetings’. This has already resulted in the intimidation of an imam on the doorstep of a mosque on Crayford High Street in March.
The Casuals’ tactics were honed in ad hoc actions over the years since the group’s inception, such as their response to a three-day weekender for Islamic scholars in York. Islamia Village, a series of seminars organised in 2012 by the Islamic Network, had to be cancelled after members of the Casuals and the English Defence League (EDL) allegedly threatened to burn the place down with everyone in it.
Using Student Rights’ research
But now Casuals United seem to have been afforded more ammunition in the research released by Student Rights, an organisation that ‘exists to counter the long proven encroachment onto university campuses by extremist elements across the United Kingdom’. Although it has recently drawn attention to the far Right’s activity, the majority of its work has been on ‘Islamic extremist’ events. Student Rights has unwittingly provided Casuals United with information about Muslim students’ activity around universities, which is then used by them to harass and intimidate the venues and societies hosting the events.
Student Rights describes itself as a ‘non-partisan group dedicated to supporting equality, democracy and freedom from extremism on university campuses’, but in practice it appears to lean towards right-wing lobbying. Although Student Rights denies a direct link with the neoconservative think tank the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), the evidence suggests otherwise. Payments made in Student Rights’ name in 2010 were found to be from a HJS bank account. Student Rights director Raheem Kassam is the Director of Campaigns for the HJS. Student Rights was set up in 2009 as a student representative body, but questions have been raised as to how many students it represents. ‘Where is their legitimacy to be pressuring SUs without any significant student membership to speak of?’ asks an NUS officer.
Although there is nothing to suggest that Student Rights ever intended its information to be used by groups like Casuals United, its counter-extremism agenda shares some aspects of the far Right’s framework about Islam and the Left. And although there can be no objection to students expressing concern about offensive speech from any quarter, Student Rights has taken liberties with its counter-extremism mandate, opposing: events in support of Palestinian causes; events in solidarity with Guantanamo detainee Shaker Aamer (labeled an Al Qaeda operative); and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign meetings. In 2009, Student Rights criticised No Platform for fascism policies, claiming that it was ‘another example of Student Unions going beyond their role and limiting free speech on campus’. This has not prevented it from pursuing a No Platform policy not just for hate speech, but seemingly for any cause it dislikes.
Suddenly, after its own work inadvertently precipitated the arrival of Casuals United and the EDL on university campuses in 2013, Student Rights has extended its work to examine the far Right. After the Casuals and members of the EDL turned up at the University of Reading earlier this year on the basis of Student Rights’ information, the organisation issued a statement condemning the actions of the far Right.
Events and venues targeted by the far Right
Groups such as Casuals United and the ENR have targeted (with or without the unwitting help of Student Rights) a number of events:
- Birmingham, 19 February 2013 – Casuals United targeted a planned retreat organised by the Muslim Development and Research Foundation. The hosting venue, the Eman Centre in Birmingham, was threatened and there were plans to hold a demonstration. Whether or not this occurred went unreported.
- Birmingham, 23 February 2013 – Casuals United boasted of getting a speech by Anjem Choudary at the Ladywood Community Centre in Birmingham cancelled by bombarding the council with complaints and threatening to demonstrate. The event went ahead nonetheless.
- University of Reading, 27 February 2013 – After Student Rights highlighted certain speakers at a University of Reading Discover Islam Week, Casuals United and the EDL bombarded the university with texts and phone calls and managed to get its Muslim Society to cancel an event in fear of ‘the increasing threat of violent protest’. The EDL and Casuals United had turned up on campus and handed out leaflets while ‘threatening’ the society. Student Rights issued a statement condemning the EDL’s actions, although standing by its right to draw attention to the event.
- University of Essex, 4 March 2013 – Haitham Al Haddad, a speaker at Essex University, was dropped from the platform at an event that eventually had to be cancelled as part of Islamic Awareness Week. After Student Rights highlighted the event, Casuals United posted the campus phone number and address, congratulating activists for getting the speaker pulled. A statement from the university to Student Rights bemoaned the threat of outside protest.
- Newcastle, 8 March 2013 – Sheikh Muhammad Abdul Jabbar was booked to speak at the Beacon Centre in Newcastle. Casuals and other activists called the Centre to convince it to cancel, but when the event went ahead anyway, over forty activists from the North East EDL demonstrated outside the venue.
- East London Mosque, 25 March 2013 – A day of lectures about historical scholars of Islam at the East London Mosque was targeted. A demonstration was considered but didn’t take place.
- Nottingham University, 28 March 2013 – After the Student Rights affiliated online newspaper ran a story about a planned retreat by Islamic preacher Haitham Al-Haddad, including statements from Student Rights, Casuals United claimed it would ‘run into a few problems’. The retreat was later scheduled to take place at Nottingham University. Casuals United distributed a phone number for Nottingham University’s Park Conference venue and threatened to demonstrate if they did not pull the plug on a ‘hate’ speaker. A demonstration took place outside the university in protest of the event.