CAIRO - Seeking a glimpse into far-right groups, a British university has established a center to study their trends, amid concerns that a decline in support for rightists could lead to a gradual shift from race-based far-right activism towards "cultural nationalism", notably against Islam.
For the first time since, I believe, the National Front in the late 70s and early 80s, the far-right is really going for popular support, Dr Matthew Feldman, an academic at the Center for Fascist, Anti-Fascist and Post-Fascist Studies at Teesside University, told The Guardian.It's moving out into the mainstream, with some success.
The center, to be launched later this month and led by Feldman and Professor Nigel Copsey, will focus on the history of far-right extremism in Britain and current trends and dangers.
Feldman said the popularity of far-right groups as the English Defence League (EDL) is decreasing.
"You can only mobilize people to come out on a Saturday and shout slogans for a couple of years," he said.
Then people will say, I've been to five of these demonstrations, they're getting smaller, my chance of getting arrested is getting bigger. Then you get fragmentation.
In Britain, far-right groups like the EDL and the British National Party (BNP) have been playing the card of immigration to stoke sentiment against Muslims and immigrants.
In November 2010, British police warned that the anti-Muslim demonstration by the EDL fuel extremism and harm social cohesion in Britain.
The two main UK public fronts for far-right sentiment, the EDL and the British National Party, are both in apparent decline.
The BNP has lost almost all its council seats, and last autumn one of its two MEPs, Andrew Brons, publicly quit, saying the party had shed 90% of its membership.
The leader of the EDL, meanwhile, was jailed this month for travelling to the US using someone else's passport.
Analysts are worried that the change in the far-right support in Britain could lead to a gradual shift from race-based far-right activism towards "cultural nationalism", notably against Islam.
"I don't want to overstate the risk of it, but there is a conjunction between what the far right has always done - what we call lone-wolf terrorism, with Breivik the perfect example - and what you have on the internet in terms of logistics and communication," he said, referring to the Norwegian far-rightists.
The internet was adding to the danger of the spread of nationalists, allowing them to organize without having to gather in meeting rooms.
Moreover, the rapid spread of terrorism manuals online guiding people on techniques for making bombs was also a major concern.
The British center will focus on assessing the risk of an attack fuelled by web-based ideologies, as happened in Norway in 2011 when Breivik slaughtered 77 people.
"I don't want to say to people that a WMD terrorist attack is around the corner, because I don't necessarily think it is. And Britain is very good at interdicting this sort of stuff, Feldman said.
But it's a zero sum game - sooner or later, like a Breivik, someone will be under the radar. You can never entirely stop these things unless you want to live under a dictatorship.
Hostility against British Muslims, estimated at nearly 2.5 million, has been on the rise since 2005's 7/7 attacks.
Police data shows that 1,200 anti-Muslim attacks were reported in Britain in 2010.
A Financial Times opinion poll showed that Britain is the most suspicious nation about Muslims.A poll of the Evening Standard found that a sizable section of London residents harbor negative opinions about Muslims.