Not an average Muslim demo

Last week there was a demonstration outside the US embassy in London against the desecration of the Qur’an by American guards in the Guantánamo Bay concentration camp. The group was organised by Stop Political Terror and other groups which oppose current anti-terrorist policy. It appears that a number of the Muslims in the demonstration shouted violent anti-American and anti-western slogans, as reported on the BBC and commercial news channels. As you might expect, commentators including Melanie Phillips have leapt on this incident:

With a war declared against the west by Islamists, here was a mob of their fanatical supporters breaking the law by inciting to violence, treason and mass murder on the streets of London with the authorities looking passively on! Surreal, or what? Has this country really got a death wish?

The slogans allegedly included “USA watch your back, Osama is coming back” and “Kill, kill USA, kill, kill George Bush” and were shouted through a megaphone. I didn’t see this as I was working in north London that day (had I not been, I might well have attended the demo), but I have seen similar behaviour at a demonstration a few years ago. This was a counter-demonstration to a pro-Israel rally in Trafalgar Square which was addressed by, among other people, Binyamin Netanyahu and Peter Mandelson. This demonstration, was stuffed back into the road leading to Buckingham Palace to avoid any contact between it and the Jewish demo. At this demo, a number of youths dressed in “jihadi” gear started chanting “Hey, hey, USA, aeroplanes are on their way, down with the buildings”. At this point, I left.

I’m quite sure the organisers of the demo didn’t intend that it would lead to flag-burning and these ridiculous slogans. At the Paddington Green demo a few weeks back, they actually handed out flyers telling demonstrators not to do this, and to keep it orderly and take our litter home. I actually used to know Dr Adnan Siddiqui, one of the leaders of Stop Political Terror. He’s a very reasonable man, a well-respected local GP. I don’t believe he would encourage this type of behaviour. But they really need to tell these morons to stop using these utterly stupid slogans. They actually give the impression of being infiltrators - it is, of course, a time-honoured political trick, to infiltrate your opponents’ demonstration and make them look bad. The sad thing is, I don’t think they are.

All the same, I have no real time for Melanie Phillips’ assessment of the demonstration. I think that the slogans were taunts, not threats or incitement. And I don’t believe that an accusation of treason against a private citizen is particularly credible in a country where the state has abdicated from its responsibility to protect its citizens, by signing a one-sided extradition agreement allowing them to be handed over without evidence. Following the pattern set by right-wing extremist columnists in the USA, Phillips also casts suspicion on a Muslim organisation which is politically very well-connected - in this case, the Muslim Council of Britain, widely accused in the community of being a sell-out. The logical flaws here are obvious - the MCB may have helped organise this demo, but this is no evidence of them inviting the undesirable elements or stirring them up to chant the offensive slogans. This is, of course, a subtle attempt to smear the entire Muslim community.

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