Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adbowale have been convicted at the Old Bailey for the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, in which he was run over by a car, then repeatedly stabbed, then nearly beheaded in Woolwich in May. Hardly unexpected, nevertheless, one aspect of the case can now receive the spotlight it deserves. Principally because it reveals so much about the state in which Britain currently finds itself.
Since Islamist extremism first came to Britain in the last two decades, anybody who objected to the horror was subjected to accusations of bigotry, fascism, racism and -- during the last decade or so -- "Islamophobia." Some of these slurs were made casually while others came from the organized left who like to describe themselves as "anti-fascist." If this self-appointed title has always sounded slightly off-kilter and self-aggrandising, it is because it is. After all, it was brave and important to be an anti-fascist in, say Germany in the 1930s. But in Britain in the 21st century there just aren't many Nazis.
However, for a certain people being "anti-fascist" is still so important that they will adopt this identity even if there are no "fascists" to be "anti" at. "Anti-fascists" need "fascists," and so find them even when they are not there. The only bloc in Britain which could warrant their attention, the British National Party (BNP), are, thank goodness, an exaggerated threat and an insignificant political force. Yet they do provide "anti-fascists" with some of their old cause. But otherwise the problem for "anti-fascism" in Britain is that it is essentially a movement that has lost its enemy.
Unless, of course, you count the form of Islamic fascism which has been resurrected in recent decades. Anti-Semitic, homophobic and otherwise minority-hating, Islamic extremism provides the closest thumbprint imaginable to the fascism that the far-left campaign group Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and others once claimed to oppose.
Yet having sat through 9/11 and 7/7, groups such as UAF only really found a cause in that fight once they felt able to claim a perceived "backlash" against Muslims in general. Then they identified anyone tackling radical Islam -- rather than the Islamists -- as the "fascists" and lined up against them. This was an instructive and -- not to overblow it -- a significant historic mistake. Take the following example.
On 11th September 2009, a rally was organized outside a mosque in Harrow by a group called "Stop the Islamisation of Europe" as well as members of the English Defence League. For what it is worth, such a protest seems not only unnecessary and pointless but also rude. In other words it would ordinarily be worth ignoring. But UAF decided to go into full "You shall not pass" mode and whip up its supporters into opposing the "racists" and "bigots" who they said would hold the protest.
As it was, the mosque protest itself was cancelled, though some supporters of one group or other appear to have hung around the fringes. But the UAF counter-protest went ahead, anyway. There was some serious rioting and violence, as well as a number of arrests, including nine for possession of weapons. By the UAF's own admission, the violence appears to have been caused by its own supporters. Indeed a UAF spokesmen said to the local press:
While the anti-fascist rally was for the most part peaceful and good natured, there were sporadic clashes when small groups of racists attempted to get near the mosque.
The racists were chased off by groups of Muslim youths, leading to occasional clashes with police.
UAF believes the blame for these incidents lies firmly with the racists trying to intimidate Muslims, not with the youths trying to protect their community.
What is especially a striking is that, as this video shows, among those young "Muslim youths" allegedly "protecting their community" was one of the people convicted this week -- Michael Adebolajo. He can be seen in the video standing on a soap box, addressing the crowd with words that seem not remotely intimidated and certainly very far from being anti-fascist.
It begins with the usual cries of "Takbir" [A call to prayer and a call to the defense of Islam] and '"Allahu Akbar" [Allah is Greater]. And then Adebolajo begins his address:
My Brothers remain in your ranks and do not be scared of these filthy Kuffar [non-believers in Islam] . They are pigs. Allah says they are worse than cattle. Do not be scared of them. Do not turn your back to them. Our messenger Mohammed fought way worse than them.
Do not be scared of them, do not be scared of the police or the cameras. You are here only to please Allah. You are not here for any other reason. If you are here just for a fight, leave our ranks. We only want those who are sincere to Allah. Purify your intention."
Takbir. Allahu Akbar etc.
Michael Adebolajo, one of the murderers of British soldier Lee Rigby, addresses a Unite Against Fascism rally in 2009. (Image source: YouTube screen capture)
Of course some people might recognize some of this extremist rhetoric. It has of course been used repeatedly in recent years by, for instance, Mehdi Hasan, one of Britain's most prominent Muslim commentators.
But the real questions in all this lie with the UAF. Adebolajo was not exactly speaking quietly. Nor was he speaking to a small section of the crowd.
As viewers will see, at the very end of the clip, as the camera pans out, another member of the crowd, an unidentified UAF supporter, can be seen holding a "Stop the fascist BNP" banner. Of course the BNP was not organizing the protest about any causes the UAF were claiming to protest. And in any event, when some supporters turned up on the fringes, the protest did not go ahead. But you do have to wonder what was going through the head of the man or woman holding a banner opposing a fascist group, but had just stood by, with the rest of the crowd, as Adebolajo gave his call to arms to his "Brothers."
If an EDL, or similar rally, had been addressed by someone making the kind of speech Adbolajo made, the UAF and Hope Not Hate and all the other groups who pride themselves on their "anti-fascism" would have leapt on it as a demonstration of the group's attractions, affiliations and more.
UAF are not alone in this. The group Hope not Hate appears to have set people up for targeting in exactly the way they claim "fascists" do.
Now that Adebolajo has been sentenced, perhaps UAF -- and other groups like it -- might give serious thought to how this situation came about. As should those politicians, including Prime Minister David Cameron, who are publicly associated with UAF as founding signatories.
The wider question, of course, is the more important: How is it that when violent fascism returned to Europe, the "anti-fascist" groups were all caught looking the other way?