The BBC has broken the news that Islam4UK "has cancelled plans to hold an anti-war march through a town famous for honouring the UK's servicemen and women killed abroad." Their plan had been to "march through Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire, to honour Muslims killed in the Afghanistan conflict." However, in the wake of massive public opposition, the group's leader Anjem Choudary has announced that they had "successfully highlighted the plight of Muslims in Afghanistan" and "no more could be achieved even if a procession were to take place."
As a result, the English Defence League are claiming victory. They had announced in response to the first call for a march that they would "not allow Extremist muslim cleric Anjem Choudary and his sick band of thugs the opportunity to stage a protest on any British soil unopposed." They would "mobilise the EDL in huge numbers and exploit this horrible organisation islam4uk [sic] for what it really is."
Gazette & Herald broke the rumour that Choudary's march would be taking place on Sunday afternoon. The rumour turned out to be false, only serving to stoke up tension and win the ire of the townspeople. But it did draw down a coachful of EDL supporters, whose actions also drew considerable disdain from Wootton Bassett residents. The comments from the people of the town were unequivocal;
It sickens me that the town I grew up has become a political tool by both extremist Islamic groups and far-right 'British' groups: Let's hope the police place banning orders on the EDL thugs who came down. The town wants nothing to do with extremist politics - whether it be extremists from Islamic groups such as Islam4UK or extremist 'British' political groups such as the EDL or the BNP, both of whom seem to be stirring up rumours so that they can have their moment in the eye of the media. Wootton Bassett does not need 'protecting' as the EDL claim to be doing. It may not be a very diverse town, but having lived there for 19 years I can say the community is one full of decent, humble and welcoming people. These EDL members cannot profess to possess such characteristics in the slightest.
The only extremists in town today were a group of degenerate racist scum. Despite the absence of any march by anyone at all, they saw fit to chant racist slogans and disgrace the flag of our patron saint.
There's nothing wrong with a protest or a demonstration, it's a right we should hold sacred. However, when those protesting or demonstrating descend into racism, ignorance and discrimination then they taint us all, especially for what this town stands for.
I didn't stop to see if these vile, thuggish cowards were members of the BNP or the EDL, use of racist words (ironically beginning with B, N and P) showed them for national shame that they are.
These are the people that have been breaking "Broken Britain" and don't deserve the honour of calling themselves British. Wootton Bassett is better than this and they shouldn't be welcome here.
I wonder what would happen if you put the EDL and Islam4UK in the same room and said "just get on with it"? They both have cowardly actions and do not speak for the people who they claim to represent.
In reality, claims of a "victory" for anybody in this debacle are facile. Anybody claiming to have "stopped" Choudary is guilty of the utmost naiveté, given the level of publicity rendered to him.Choudary's aim in calling the march was never to actually protest, but to stir up division and reaction for publicity.
That is why, as I called for, it was vital from the beginning that there be a voice for opposition to the march grounded in the principles of anti-racism, anti-fascism, and anti-imperialism. To the contrary, the nationalistic fervour whipped up by the EDL and the British National Party - not to mention the media - was only ever going to serve the purposes of the propagandists.
For Islam4UK, the response was everything that they could have hoped for, proof that everyone who opposed them was an anti-Muslim bigot, and a PR coup that would attract more disaffected Muslims to their cause. That is why the actions of moderate and secular Muslims, such as British Muslims for Secular Democracy, in unequivocally opposing the march are to be welcomed. As with the left-wing opposition offered by anarchists and socialists, it was vital in demolishing Choudary's assertion that his movement is only opposed by "right-wing extremists."
For the EDL and the state, by contrast, the proposed march has served to aid their promotion of nationalism and loyalism. As I wrote last Wednesday;
It has been instructive to see the willingness of the media to emphasise the fact that this march was taking place under "anti-war" auspices. The clear implication being that there is a direct link between opposition to the war and Islamic extremism, a useful propaganda ploy as public opposition to the war in Afghanistan continues to mount. Comment pieces, such as Gerald Warner's in the Telegraph, which ride popular anger to call for "adequate laws to suppress these troublemakers" also offer a useful precedent for further culling of civil liberties.
The EDL are no different, and their calls to "support our armed forces" are nothing but obfuscation. Whilst people are agonising over whether or not they are demonstrating adequate levels of support for the troops, they are not having the debate about whether or not to support the policies. This is important for the EDL, whose adherence to the principle of "my country right or wrong" is becoming increasingly transparent.
Most telling is this revelation from the Sunday Mail;
A MOB of English neo-Nazi thugs plan to battle Irish republicans on the streets of Glasgow.
The football hooligans, right wingers and loyalists, under the Scottish Defence League banner, have secret plans to cause chaos at a march next week to mark the 38th anniversary of the Derry Bloody Sunday massacre.
A Sunday Mail investigation has revealed that SDL yobs aim to attack marchers from Irish republican groups on Sunday.
An SDL organiser called "Beight", said: "I urge SDL supporters to let these vermin know that their presence is not welcome on Scotland's streets."
A spokesman for Cairde Na hÉireann, an Irish republican support group in Scotland, said: "Groups should be entitled to demonstrate and not suffer because of the violent actions of others."
Bloody Sunday was an inexcusable attrocity on the part of soldiers and their commanders in the British Parachute Regiment, shooting twenty seven unarmed civil rights protesters on 30th January 1972. That the SDL, a sister group of the EDL, would stand in opposition to those commemorating a war crime that triggered decades of violence tells you all that you need to know. For the hooligan defence leagues loyalism, not liberty, is the key motivator. In which respect they are no different than the Ulster Volunteers or the B-Specials, the paramilitary organisations formed by the British state to quell the rebellious Irish and for whom "the Fascisti in Italy would be a more exact analogy," according to David Lloyd George.
This is another reason why "those who realise that the crimes of militarism and the bigotry of religious fundamentalism must be opposed with equal veracity, need to make their voice heard." That Islam4UK is no longer marching should be seen as a victory for the people of Wootton Bassett, not for anybody claiming to represent them. But the subsequent news that "Home Secretary Alan Johnson will use his powers to smash warped organisations run by hate-preacher Anjem Choudary" should not be seen as a victory for anything except authoritarianism.
Yesterday, I commented on how news that Nick Griffin could face jail time for the BNP's membership policy set an ominous precedent. The same is true if Choudary's organisation is to face proscription by the Home Secretary.
Islam4UK is a vile organisation. It serves as a conduit for militant Islam in Britain, and is an orgon of apologism for the most reprehensible of ideologies. But it should not be banned any more than the BNP or the EDL should. Not only does allowing such a thing to happen give the state the right to dictate what types of organisation people can belong to, it removes the distinction between thought and action. Acts can be criminal but beliefs cannot, and any society which begins to suggest otherwise is on the road to totalitarianism.
The events surrounding Wootton Bassett have offered ample demonstration that the EDL, the BNP, and Islam4UK are not viable alternatives to the status quo. They are movements of reaction which genuine radicals must resist both physically and ideologically. But they have also shown us that by far the greatest threat we face comes from neither Islamic extremists nor fascists, but from established power.
Update: 11/01/2010A day after the Wootton Bassett debacle came to a head, the BBC reports the following;
Five Muslim men who protested at a home-coming parade in Luton where soldiers were called murderers have been convicted of being abusive.I have argued this point before. Not to put too fine a point on it, nobody is entitled to take any public action "without experiencing insults and abuse." Freedom of speech is worthless without the right to be an ignorant, offensive, and insensitive prick.
The charges related to a march by The Royal Anglian Regiment through the town in March 2009.
The five men, all from Luton, were convicted of using threatening, abusive or insulting words and behaviour likely to cause harassment and distress.
Two men were cleared of all charges at Luton Magistrates' Court.
Jalal Ahmed, 21, Yousaf Bashir, 29, Ziaur Rahman, 32, Shajjadar Choudhury, 31, Munim Abdul, 28, were found guilty.
Ibrahim Anderson, 32, and Jubair Ahmed, 19, who are also from Luton, were found not guilty. All had denied the charges.
The five convicted men were given two-year conditional discharges and were ordered to pay costs of £500 each.
District Judge Carolyn Mellanby said: "I have no doubt it is abusive and insulting to tell soldiers to 'Go to hell' - to call soldiers murderers, rapists and baby killers.
"It is not just insulting to the soldiers but to the citizens of Luton who were out on the streets that day to honour and welcome soldiers home.
"Citizens of Luton are entitled to demonstrate their support for the troops without experiencing insults and abuse."