Policymakers in the UK and across Europe need to reassess their approach to the growing international network of counter-Jihad groups, such as the English Defence League (EDL), argues a new report.

The Roots of Extremism: The English Defence League and the Counter-Jihad Challenge, by [directory 52884 189783], uses the EDL as a case study to reveal the drivers of support for a global movement that also includes Generation Identity in France, various defence leagues across Europe, and the 'stop Islamization' networks in the US and elsewhere.

Drawing on new YouGov data, the report finds that the public opinion climate for groups that are openly hostile to Islam and immigrants is favourable: 48% reject the suggestion that Muslims are compatible with the national way of life. Any successful counter-strategy will require mainstream voices to start challenging these narratives, the report warns.

Those who identify with the counter-Jihad movement are more likely than average to view violence as both justifiable and inevitable, with the survey finding that 79% of EDL supporters predict a 'clash of civilizations'.

Contrary to widely-held assumptions which trace support for counter-Jihad groups to the financial crisis, austerity and political isolation, the report reveals that most supporters of the EDL are in fact:

  • Actively engaging in mainstream politics, and more likely than their fellow citizens to have voted at the last election
  • Not more likely to be unemployed, dependent on social housing or motivated simply by economic insecurity
  • Not simply young and uneducated. Only 16% are aged 18-29 years, and fewer than one in ten supporters has no qualifications whatsoever

Policy responses which focus on tackling economic inequality and political isolation, and which principally target unemployed and deprived working-class men, are therefore insufficient.

The report author, Matthew Goodwin, says: 

'The counter-Jihad challenge is under-researched and poorly understood. These groups are different from the traditional far right in important ways. They favour confrontational street-based demonstrations rather than seeking political office. They reject crude racial supremacism, and are open to recruiting support from ethnic minorities against Islam. They have often grown quickly. In only a short time, the English Defence League went from an isolated protest to rallying over 80,000 Facebook followers and mounting a serious and costly challenge to public order.'

Notes to Editors

Read The Roots of Extremism: The English Defence League and the Counter-Jihad Challenge

Understanding Counter-Jihad Extremism: The Case of the English Defence League
Thursday 7 March, 12:30-13:30 

With: Matthew Goodwin, Associate Fellow, Europe, Chatham House
Sunder Katwala, Director, British Future
Gavin Shuker MP

The report analyses YouGov survey data gathered in October 2012, previously unreleased. This is based on a random sample of 1,666 respondents, drawn from an online panel of 350,000 British adults. The panel is weighted to the profile of eligible voters in the country, including those without internet access and on the basis of age, gender, class, region, party identification and newspaper readership. From these respondents, 298 EDL supporters were identified. These are respondents who had both heard of the English Defence League, and who said they agree with its values and/or methods. In the full sample 47% of respondents said they did not agree with the movement while a significant 23% agreed with either its values and/or methods.

For interview requests please contact the [staff 176571 189783].