This year marks the 75th anniversary of the ‘Battle of Cable Street’. Oswald Mosley had planned to lead his ‘Blackshirt’ fascists through Cable Street to stir up hatred towards the then Jewish community of the East End. Mosley’s plan was thwarted by hundreds of thousands of counter demonstrators who blocked his path, and he subsequently had to abandon the march.
The notorious English Defence League (EDL) had planned to march through the borough of Tower Hamlets (on 3rd September), but was banned after the Home Secretary, Theresa May “carefully considered the legal tests in the Public Order Act and balanced rights to protest against the need to ensure local communities and property are protected”. Sadly, the relief looks short-lived: EDL members seem hell-bent on coming to the area around our mosque and local community, if only for a ‘static’ demo. After the recent riots across much of London, many communities are now left with a palpable sense of ‘fear': can the police protect us, or do we protect ourselves (as the worshippers did at the East London Mosque during the rioting)?
The EDL was born in 2009, in opposition to the so-called rise of ‘extremist Muslims’ in the UK. Composed of football hooligans and far-rights activists from groups such as the BNP, it is little wonder that many EDL marches are marred by violence and disorder. Its mission statement stresses the need for: “British Muslims to overcome the problems that blight their religion and achieve nothing short of an Islamic reformation.” Yet just as with Mosley in the 1930s, the EDL is blind to the violence and extremism of its own members – even its very ethos is an attack on British Muslims. A recent article published on the EDL website tried to disparage the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. What is a Muslim supposed to think, when they read an inflammatory statement that says: “Sweden, it’s possible for there to be 20 hours of daylight a day in August. (Allah clearly didn’t have Sweden in mind when he devised the fasting).”
The recent atrocities in Norway and the revelations about the EDL connection with terrorist and mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik should serve as a stark reminder: terrorism has many different shades and should not be singularly attributed to a religion or ethnicity. The EDL’s ideology is ultimately one of extreme hatred and Islamophobia and is likely to engender terrorism: many of its members will never be able to content themselves with a ‘softly softly’ approach.
The ‘true’ loyalty of British Muslims is beginning to emerge: men like Tariq Jahan, whose son Haroon Jahan was murdered amidst the rioting in Birmingham. Tariq called for “peace”; his dead son was yet to be buried. These “heroic” words helped calm tensions: he would be the ideal representation of the British Muslim, one who is loyal to the faith and to the country.
I am left to contemplate why the British Muslim population has faced a barrage of hysterical media coverage in recent years. This reporting by a handful of right-wing commentators, tabloids and neo-conservative-aligned think-tanks has fuelled the Far Right, increasing animosity and hatred towards the Muslim community. Dr Robert Lambert, Co-Director of the European Muslim Research Centre, agrees that a portion of the problem is credited to the media and tells us: “Breivik and the EDL base their hate-filled analysis of Muslims on the work of mainstream commentators who should now reflect on the unintended if not unforeseeable consequences of their Islamophobic discourse.”
Similarly, Prof. David Miller, director of SpinWatch (which “monitors the role of public relations and spin in contemporary society”), delivered a damning report earlier last month, entitled: ‘The Cold War on British Muslims’. It uncovers how two prominent right-wing think-tanks “sought to revive discredited counter-subversion policies from the Cold War era” to taint politically active and peaceful Muslims, in addition to downplaying the cataclysmic rise of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred.
Even if a fraction of the positive works of the Muslim communities were portrayed in the mainstream media, it would have helped circumvent many of the problems they face today. The three young Muslim men that were mown down in Birmingham were victims of individuals who have been certainly infected with hate and prejudice. Mass-murderer Anders Breivik amassed enough odium to carry out his monstrous crimes, whilst trying to justify them in a 1500 page manifesto.
On the eve of the EDL arriving in London’s East End, now is the time to learn from history: mistakes that have been made in the past never have to be repeated again. There are lessons to be learned from the recent riots and the rise of the Far Right within Europe. We cannot simply live our lives in blissful ignorance, whilst hate and destruction is allowed to flourish. For anyone who doubts, just reflect on Martin Niemöller’s infamous poem, “First they Came…”.
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