While right-wing extremism and populist extremist parties have been the subject of growing attention in Europe and North America, the emergence of ‘counter-Jihad’ groups has been relatively neglected. Campaigning amid fiscal austerity and ongoing public concerns over immigration, these groups are more confrontational, chaotic and unpredictable than established populist extremist political parties, yet not enough is known about who supports them – and why.
Widely held assumptions about their supporters – which often stress economic austerity, political protest and Islamophobia as the key drivers – are challenged by new survey data on public attitudes towards the ideas of one leading counter-Jihad group, the English Defence League.
The data indicates that supporters of such groups are not just young, uneducated, economically insecure or politically apathetic. They are not simply anti-Muslim or overtly racist, but xenophobic and profoundly hostile towards immigration. They expect inter-communal conflict and believe violence is justifiable. And their beliefs about the threatening nature of Islam have wider public support.
Few mainstream voices in Europe are actively challenging counter-Jihad narratives, or the surrounding reservoir of anti-Muslim prejudice among the general public, but this is an essential part of any successful counter-strategy.