Last weekend 2,000 supporters of the English Defence League (EDL) invaded Leicester. They claimed to stand up for Englishness against Islamic extremism, but in truth they came for trouble. Almost as soon as they arrived they began fighting with police, putting four in hospital, and in the process throwing army issue smoke grenades, fire crackers and ball bearings at police horses and dogs
During one charge, which resulted in a police officer being repeatedly stamped on, others in the crowd chanted "let him die". As the event finished hundreds of EDL supporters rampaged through local streets indiscriminately attacking local Asians. These were not acts of patriotism but the destructive efforts of racist thugs and football hooligans.
On October 24 the EDL plan to hold a solidarity demonstration outside the Israeli embassy to which they have invited a little-known American rabbi, in a cynical ploy aimed at cultivating hatred between Jews and Muslims.
While many in the Jewish community have understandable concerns about the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, it is important to remember that the EDL are not our friends. Searchlight has been running local campaigns against the EDL, in the same way that we work to defeat the politics of hate espoused by the BNP. We seek to mobilise communities to stand together around common values which unite us. In Leicester this meant over 6,000 local residents standing together against the hatred of the EDL. One Leicester, United Together. Next week it is the turn of the Jewish community to stand united against this hatred.
Extremism is extremism, whatever form it comes in, and the EDL is a genuine threat to social cohesion and peaceful communities. And extremism only breeds extremism. The EDL set out to whip up trouble and tensions, hoping to provoke a violent reaction from young Muslims. In the short term this divides communities, in the longer term it only pushes people to more extreme groups.
But with the threat comes an opportunity and we must use the concern over the EDL to bring people together. One of the most moving movements of our peace vigil in Leicester last weekend was when the leader of the Muslim community read out a message of support from the local Jewish community. "A rock thrown at a mosque is a rock thrown at a synagogue," the message read. This produced a massive cheer and highlights what is possible when we stand together against hatred.
Nick Lowles is editor of Searchlight magazine