LONDON (Reuters) - A government minister said a recent rise in right-wing anti-Islamist militancy bore echoes of 1930s attempts by fascists to spread fear in Jewish areas of east London.
Communities Secretary John Denham said far right groups were deliberately trying to provoke ethnic minority groups into conflict in a bid to cause divisions within communities.
His comments came after members of the Stop Islamisation of Europe group were confronted by about 1,000 opponents outside a mosque in north London on Friday. Ten arrests were made, including nine for possession of offensive weapons, and bricks and bottles were thrown at police.
The incident comes after trouble in recent weeks between nationalist supporters and counter demonstrators in Birmingham resulting in dozens of arrests.
“You could go back to the 1930s if you wanted to,” he told the Guardian newspaper. “The tactic of trying to provoke a response in the hope of causing wider violence and mayhem is long established on the far-right and among extremist groups.”
The black-shirted British Union of Fascists stirred fear in largely Jewish areas of London’s east end in the 1930s.
When they rallied for a march through the Stepney district in October, 1936, Tens of thousands of east enders blocked the approaches. Police attempts to clear their way resulted in fierce clashes and the BUF was eventually forced to abandon its plans in what became known as the Battle of Cable Street.
One senior counter-terrorism officer warned in July that right-wing extremists were plotting a “spectacular” incident to fuel racial hatred.
The government has been trying to improve integration of ethnic minorities since race riots across northern England in 2001, and efforts were stepped up after the 2005 London suicide bombings carried out by four young British Islamists.
Denham said far-right groups were again trying to take advantage of white, working-class people although he added modern extremist groups lacked the potency and organisation of those of the 1930s.
“What we’re seeing is small but we do need to take it seriously enough to say there are obviously people who would like to be provocative,” he told BBC radio.
Support for the far-right British National Party has been growing, fuelled by anger at the main parties and suspicion that immigration was impacting on jobs and services. It won two seats in European Parliament elections in June.
Groups such as the anti-Islamist English Defence League have become more prominent since a small number of Muslim protesters heckled and jeered a homecoming parade by British soldiers earlier this year.
“We haven’t finished the job yet and we know there are communities who feel that their questions are not being answered,” Denham said.
Reporting by Michael Holden