After Woolwich

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The racist backlash after the murder of a soldier outside Woolwich barracks last month has been on a far greater scale than that following the 7 July 2005 bombings in London.

Even though more than 50 people were killed and over 700 injured in 7/7, there were only sporadic attacks on Muslims and their property. Compare this with the report from the Faith Matters think tank that it had logged 193 anti-Muslim hate incidents in first six days following Lee Rigby's murder, including ten attacks on mosques. This is 15 times higher than the average rate last year of just over 12 anti-Muslim hate incidents per week.

The key difference between then and now is the steady rise of officially sanctioned Islamophobia in Britain since the 2005 bombings. The shocking nature of the Woolwich attack played into a wider Islamophobic narrative that has been set in place by politicians.

In 2011 David Cameron used a keynote speech to attack multiculturalism and to blame Muslim groups for incubating "Islamic extremism". The media, especially the right wing tabloids, run a constant stream of scare stories about migrants and Muslims. And more recently we have seen both Labour and the Tories use the dramatic rise in Ukip votes as an excuse to steer right and ramp up their anti-immigrant messages. The EDL and the BNP both responded quickly to the Woolwich murder, using it to re-orientate and revive. Both organisations called national mobilisations around Woolwich.

The EDL mobilisations over the bank holiday weekend in Newcastle and central London were its largest since Tower Hamlets in September 2011. There were also a number of local EDL "flash" protests as well. The size of these protests and the speed at which they were organised have come as a shock to many anti-racists, including some who have previously ignored or downplayed the threat of fascist street movements.

It is not a surprise that the EDL and BNP are attempting to capitalise on the situation after Woolwich. But they are not starting from a good place. Despite "objective conditions" being ripe for the growth of the far-right, both organisations have been in disarray recently. This disarray has been brought on in large part by the "subjective factor" - the opposition these groups have met led by Unite Against Fascism (UAF). Mass mobilisations broke the back of the BNP's election machine in Barking and Stoke, while mass mobilisations on the streets kept the EDL in check in Walthamstow and Tower Hamlets. UAF responded quickly to the far-right moving in on events in Woolwich. It produced a statement the day after the attack that has received widespread support from key organisations and individuals including local trade unions and Labour Party branches in south east London. UAF also organised serious counter protests to the EDL presence in London, Manchester and Newcastle.

It is safe to assume that a higher level of anti-Muslim sentiment is going to be a feature of the political landscape in Britain for some time to come. Building well rooted UAF groups in every locality that can challenge the Nazis' racist lies and thwart their ability to organise on the streets will be a key task in the weeks and months ahead.