- By Andrew SwiftAndrew Swift is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy.
Sept. 11 protests over an Islamic community center a few blocks away from the World Trade Center site drew an unlikely ally: British soccer hooligans.
This isn’t particularly shocking, given that many hooligans have long been tied into European right-wing political organizations. The most infamous among them were militant followers of Red Star Belgrade in the early 1990s. Headed by future-Serbian war criminal Arkan, the Delije were notoriously violent fanatics, and later became a backbone of Serbian paramilitary units in the Balkan Wars.
The small protest contingent were members of the English Defense League, an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim organization. (They style themselves as a "Counter Jihad" movement.) The make-up of the group itself is actually quite amazing. The New York Times quotes a piece on the EDL’s website referring to a London Al-Quds Day rally:
More and more lads started to arrive at the pub, Pompey, Southampton, West Ham, Arsenal, Tottenham, Millwall, Chelsea, Brentford, QPR all drinking together, a bit of banter, but no hassle whatsoever. Top lads all there for their country.
For the record, these are some of English football’s fiercest rivalries: (Pompey) Portsmouth-Southampton, West Ham–Millwall, Arsenal-Tottenham, Queens Park Rangers (QPR)/Brentford (and to a lesser extent, Chelsea.)
The Times piece also provides a number of videos of EDL rallies, which are well worth a look to get a taste of what the group is like. Matthew Taylor of the Guardian secretly investigated the group for months, and produced this video in May. A choice bit as quoted by the Times:
As we moved outside for the E.D.L. protest — during which supporters became involved in violent clashes with the police — a woman asked me for a donation to support the "heroes coming back injured from Afghanistan." I put a pound in the bucket.
"Thanks love," she said."They go over there and fight for this country and then come back to be faced with these Pakis everywhere." The woman also used another racial slur, using language we cannot repeat here.
Some right-wing U.S. protesters have gone to great lengths to prove they aren’t bigots; I wonder if they’ll denounce this British group showing up at their rallies …