EDL sets up fort in Sunshine Coast

By Sam Failes

A controversial, far-right, anti-Islamic organisation has set up a new division in Eastbourne.

The English Defence League (EDL) has not previously been active in the town but an Eastbourne and Hastings division was set up in early November of last year.

Despite this, Islamic leaders remain calm. Chairman of the Eastbourne Mosque, Taleb Durgahee, said: “The EDL is of no concern to us. We are committed to pray in peace and harmony. In fact the emergence of this kind of organisation is an opportunity for excellence in ensuring that we show what a good Muslim is.”

However, the EDL is being vehemently opposed by another East Sussex group formed from a nationwide organisation. Unite Against Fascism (UAF) is a pressure group that campaigns against far-right organisations such as the British National Party (BNP) and the EDL. An organisation for the Hastings and Eastbourne area was set up in 2005 to counter the BNP at the general election.

Eastbourne and Hastings UAF want to make the local population aware of the perceived dangers of the EDL. The EDL consistently deny the organisation is racist and often claim they are only campaigning against “radical Islam”.

The UAF disagrees: “Our role is to show people that fundamentally, the EDL is racist. Whether they target black people, whether they target Asian people, the bottom line is they’re extremists.”

The Eastbourne and Hastings division of the EDL oppose the renovation of Eastbourne’s mosque on Ashford Road. If the group decided to hold a demonstration against the works Unite Against Fascism would consider a counter demonstration similar to those they have previously held in other parts of the country. One member of the local group, who did not want be named, said: “We will protest not only to protect the mosque but to show the people of Eastbourne they don’t have to be frightened of a bunch of fascists and Nazis, which the EDL are.”

Another added: “If you allow them to grow we’ll be the ones hiding behind our doors, we can’t do that, they’re our streets, we have to be out there to defend them.”

The group also said: “The EDL have filled in a vacuum where the BNP have been vastly weakened by the elections.” The BNP are the only right-wing organisation previously active in the town and performed poorly at the previous election only securing 1.8 per cent of the town’s votes.

The English Defence League Eastbourne & Hastings Division Facebook page currently only has 131 members and many of these are thought to live outside the area. One UAF member commented: “People have set up a Facebook page, that gives no indication of how many people are involved. I don’t think there’s much of an EDL presence myself.”

The EDL’s marches and protests have caused disruption in towns around the country since 2009. Warwickshire Police announced in January that a march in Nuneaton cost the force £250,000.

The EDL refused to comment on their activities in Eastbourne and Hastings.

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