Following the May 22 murder of a British soldier in London, the U.K. has seen a spike in anti-Muslim sentiment, as illustrated by a Monday rally by the far-right English Defense League (EDL), which drew hundreds of supporters calling for an “English Spring.” In the preceding days, dozens of mosques across Britain were targeted with graffiti, Molotov cocktails and even piles of bacon. A national monitoring group reports an increase in Islamaphobic incidents from around 4 a day before the London attack to approximately 40 at present.
That the EDL was quick to capitalize on the incident — which occurred in an ungentrified neighborhood where it has a large support base — comes as little surprise: the group has seen its influence drop in recent months, thanks to infighting and waning popularity. Its recent rebound (built around its Islamaphobic message) has already proven relatively successful – in one week, EDL’s Facebook followers grew from 20,000 to over 100,000. However, cyber militants from Anonymous GB — a group that has built its reputation on confronting ultra-conservative movements — were quick to counterattack. On Tuesday, they launched a campaign to close EDL’s Facebook page, and published the names and addresses of several of its members. For their part, Muslim communities across Britain have cautiously responded to the spike in anti-Muslim sentiment by heightening security measures. However, one mosque in the northern city of York has drawn particular attention for its tempered – and decidedly British – reaction: when EDL supporters gathered in front of a York mosque on Monday, they were offered tea and biscuits and invited to participate in an impromptu soccer match. They accepted both.
But in the meanwhile, fears of a similar backlash are growing across the English Channel where French authorities have identified an ideological (read Islamic) bent to Saturday’s stabbing attack on a French soldier in Paris. A suspect detained early Wednesday is a recent convert to Islam. Like the London attackers, authorities believe he “acted in the name of his religious ideology.” Fears of a backlash are prescient given France’s long-standing tensions with its sizeable Muslim community – the largest in Europe – which intensified following the murder of seven people by a radicalized Muslim in Toulouse last year. Granted, most of France’s far-right movements are currently occupied with virulent ant-gay marriage demonstrations. However, in the specter of additional copycat attacks, they may well shift their focus to a long-favored target – France’s 5 million or so Muslims. Particularly now that the “French Spring” – the moniker adopted by far-right groups protesting gay marriage legislation – may have lost some critical steam: on Wednesday, Vincent Autin and Bruno Boileau married in the first gay wedding in France.