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Community, politics and extremism: a study of far-right and radical Islamist engagement with wider society

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This study examines the activities of those allied to the British National Party (BNP) and al-Muhajiroun, groups deemed ‘extremist’ by mainstream society, particularly those actions done as part of the extremist group, but which engage with the wider community. The research comprised of participant-observation and biographical interviews, both with extremist and non-extremist activists and focused on public community engagement. It was conducted in two sites in Stoke-on-Trent; a ‘white site’ with a number of BNP members in leadership positions, and a more dispersed ‘Islamic site’ in which a number of young men were engaged in al-Muhajiroun’s street-based activism. In the context of Community Cohesion and Preventing Violent Extremism policies and programmes, these groups and their members are presented as an existential threat to the nation while still allowed to carry on much of their business. In this light, the research looks at the backgrounds, connections, and political attitudes of extremist activists in order to situate them as community members and not as standing apart from society. The thesis asks how the political and policy context affects their contact with others. It finds that the connections and continuities, in background and political attitudes, between extremists and others, makes clear cut divisions problematic, and so undermines the rhetoric of ‘them and us’. The thesis argues that the government and media emphasis on particular extremist groups, as opposed to racism and intolerance more generally, is counterproductive. The singling out of particular groups allows those social groups from which the stereotyped extremists are drawn to see themselves as unfairly targeted. The conflation of political extremism with terrorism and other violent extremism at the same time exaggerates any threat of violence. A sense of injustice and fear can then fuel further extremism.


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