Around 70 men from Muslims Against Crusades marched in London calling for the setting up of Sharia law controlled zones in which Islamic rules would be enforced. The ENA and others demonstrated against them. 30 July 2011
Around 70 men from Muslims Against Crusades marched from Leyton to Walthamstow calling for the setting up of Sharia Controlled Zones in the UK which 'Islamic rules' would be enforced by Muslims. There were several small counter-demonstrations by groups including the English National Alliance. London, UK. 30/07/2011
Muslims Against Crusades are a very small extremist fringe Muslim organisation led by Dr Anjem Choudary, a follower of the jailed Omar Bakri and co-founder with him of al-Muhajiroun, banned by the UK in 2005, spokesman for Al Ghurabaa, proscribed in 2006, and former leader of Islam4UK, banned in 2010. The leaflet distributed by the marchers claimed support from other groups and organisations: Waltham Forest Muslims, Convert2Islam, Salafi Media, Abu Abdullah, The Islamic Council of Britain, The International Shariah Court, The Society of Muslim Lawyers, The Muslim Entrepreneur Foundation, The Shariah Court of the UK and a spokesman for Izharudeen.com.
Waltham Forest Muslims seems to be a web site written by a supporter of MAC, while Convert2Islam seems nothing more than a single page web site about converting to Islam. Salafi Media seems another of Choudary's organisations, linked to his London School of Sharia. He was chairman of the Society of Muslim Lawyers, but was removed from the list of legal practitioners in 2002. There are or have been several people known as Abu Abdullah, but this probably refers to the associate of Abu Hamza who has advocated terrorism in interviews and praised the London 7/7 bombers calling them "my honourable brothers in Islam."
The Islamic Council of Britain appears no longer to exist and seems to have been formed to try and created confusion with the much more respectable Muslim Council of Britain. Again it seems to have been linked to Choudary. The International Shariah Court is agaian Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad and Anjem Choudary, who is described as 'Lecturer in Shari'ah Law & Manager of The Shari'ah Court of the UK'. The Muslim Entrepreneur Foundation seems to have no real existence and is also presumably a front for Choudary and his colleagues.
So although at yesterday's press conference, Anjem Choudary claimed that this march, the start of what was described as part of the 'Islamic Emirate Project' and intended to "pave the way for the establishment of Britain’s first Islamic Emirate" had "support from a wide range of organisations", in fact it was only supported by a very small circle of him and his fellow extremists.
Although MAC had told the local press there would be a thousand marchers, the police estimate of 50-100 turned out to be accurate, despite which they had mounted a large scale policing operation as several groups were expected to come and show their opposition.
When I arrived at the time the protest was due to start there were only a couple of people present, and half an hour later when we were assured the event would begin there were still less than twenty, and they were outnumbered both by the press and the police. Clearly it was not a local protest, as there were phone calls from those in other parts of London asking for directions on how to get the the starting place, and by around 1.20 when the march finally started the numbers there were over 50 men, with a few joining later to bring the total to around 70 when I made a careful count. There were no women marchers.
There was considerable media interest in this event, aroused largely by a poster campaign in several East London Boroughs including Waltham Forest, with small posters being stuck on bus stops and lamp posts declaring the area a 'Sharia Controlled Zone'
These stickers stated that the area was now under 'Islamic rules' and that these prohibited drinking alcohol, drug taking, smoking, prostitution, gambling, musics, concerts and pornography.
Speeches and slogans on the march and at the rallies before and after it also made clear that they MAC was opposed to 'secular culture', democracy and the police force. Law in these Sharia zones would be enforced by the kind of cleric-led officers and vigilantes that we see in countries such as Iran, although they did not make clear if we could expect to see stoning, hanging and amputations.
Many people took the leaflets that were being handed out and stopped to watch the march going by, but I saw very few expressions of support from the local people. There were are few enthusiastic youths, but I suspect if many had read the paragraph of the leaflet that read:
The amount of our own sons and daughters who have been affected by the non-Islamic culture is shocking, to the extent the Muslim youth today see no problem in having boyfriends and girlfriends; how common is it we see the youth leaving college together and to see your own daughters/sisters with a foreign man!
their response - like mine - would be rather less enthusiastic. Many like me would have questioned what was mean by a "foreign man", as they regard themselves as English.
The more general response from Muslims on the street seemed to be summed up by one shopkeeper who came to his shop doorway to ask a colleague of mine what was happening. On being told it was Mr Choudary he shrugged his shoulders and lifted his eyes to heaven. Like most I heard comment, he thought that activities such as this give Muslims a bad name.
Various threads on English Defence League (EDL) forums had suggested that the best response to this kind of Muslim extremism was to stay at home and ignore this event, but others had decided to take some action. At the start of the event one of the leading Christian campaigners against increasing Islamic influence was busily talking to the protesters, interviewing and photographing them and apparently trying to set up some kind of dialogue.
Around halfway through the march there were a couple of men, one with a St George's flag with the red hand of Ulster at its centre sitting on a bench by the side of the road. They wanted to protest at the march, but police prevented them from doing so. The police have a duty to allow peaceful protest and it seemed to me wrong not to do so in this case.
Later we came to the Shoe Laces Sports Bar, surrounded by large numbers of police, who were holding a number of men inside the bar and refusing to let them come out and protest. As the march passed they began singing the National Anthem, and the officers shut the door. It was impossible to tell what group they belonged to, and again the police action appeared to be preventing them from exercising their right to protest. There were more than enough police around to ensure public order had they been allowed to come out and do so.
Close to the end of the march in Walthamstow was another pub with a row of police outside, but they did allow a few members of the English Nationalist Alliance to protest as the march passed them. Among them was their leader, Bill Baker who was holding several placards. He asked me to make clear that they are not an anti-Muslim organisation but simply opposed to the kind of Muslim extremism represented by Choudary, and proposals to bring Shariah law to Britain.
One of his placards included the message:
Your version of Islam is a lie and relates to satanism and barbaric Sharia practice
a sentiment many Muslims would have sympathy with. The ENA also made clear their opposition to Sharia law in the UK, calling on the MAC to "submit to English Law or leave for a country that abides by Sharia barbarity."
We live in a society that values democracy, the toleration of different values and the rule of laws made by our elected parliament and enforced with some degree of fairness. Most of us would agree that we should submit to the law - or strive to change it through democratic means, but it seems odd to suggest that people who want to change the law should go elsewhere rather than engage in the democratic process. But certainly ours is increasingly - as MAC say - a secular society, and the great majority want our laws to be secular.
Also, while most of us are against drugs, prostitution and possibly against gambling and some of the other things the MAC called to be banned, many of us would feel our lives impoverished without at least the occasional glass of wine, not to mention music and concerts, and the ability to mix freely with people irrespective of their gender. Another of the ENA's placards expressed it more directly:
Sex, Drugs, Beer & Rock and Roll, it's our Western way of life, so get over it or leave, simple as that.
I'd prefer to leave off those last five words and simply call for toleration. I promised to write accurately about what happened, and I'm trying to do so. When the MAC march came past, some of the ENA surged forward slightly, but made no attempt to break through the thin line of police in front of them, shouting and gesturing at the Muslim extremists. Again in the interests of accuracy, there were some shouts about Islam that all Muslims would find offensive (and similar sentiments about Christianity would offend most Christians.) But it remained an entirely peaceful protest, and made me wonder again why some other protesters were not allowed to make their views clear in a similar way.
As the march moved onto the square for a final rally there were some minor scuffles in a large crowd of Muslim youth, some of whom I think were objecting to the MAC protest. Police moved in quickly but a few of the young men grabbed cameras or pushed photographers who were trying to photograph what was happening. But the troublemakers quickly evaporated and the rally continued without problems, next to a group of black evangelical Christians preparing to play and sing when they were finished.