Muslim demo in London. No trouble.

Today was a Bank Holiday, and I decided to go up to London to see an art exhibition at the Barbican. I went via the Moroccan Tagine in Golborne Road, W10, a place I have recommended to numerous Muslims seeking halaal refreshment in west London, for a harira (Moroccan soup) and a mint tea. I intended to go from there, on the Hammersmith and City line, to the Barbican (which has its own station on that line), but was sidetracked on the way there when I saw a flyer somebody had discarded on a footbridge over the train line. There was to be a demonstration this afternoon outside Downing Street in support of an Algerian who has been held for extradition purposes since 1995.

Besides showing my support for a Muslim brother in trouble, I thought this might be an opportunity to ask some questions about the accusations which had been levelled as a result of their last demonstration, at the American embassy in Grosvenor Square, at which certain people had shouted offensive and violent slogans. And I wasn’t disappointed. I met both Adnan Siddiqui and Massoud Shadjareh, the latter being the head of the Islamic Human Rights Commission. They told me something I should have suspected all along: that the incident was the work of the remnants of al-Muhajiroun.

It begs the question of what that group aims to achieve by disrupting a legitimate demonstration in this fashion. It was a protest against American officials desecrating copies of the Qur’an as a means of causing distress to Muslim prisoners. It was not a demonstration in favour of terrorism or al-Qa’ida, and wasn’t about destroying America. The problem is that their literature demonstrates that they in fact despise mainstream Muslims - they list the IHRC, Respect and the Muslim Council of Britain as Munaafiqeen (hypocrites) on their website, and Stop Political Terror as “very close to becoming Munaafiqeen”. So it is likely that the people who turned up shouting stupid slogans actually opposed the demonstration.

The demonstration this afternoon, on the contrary, passed off without any such incident (as they so often do, and I have been to several). Speakers included the aforementioned Adnan Siddiqui and Massoud Shadjareh, plus George Galloway, Yvonne Ridley, Les Levidow of the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC), Gareth Pierce (the lawyer for at least one of the detainees who was also involved in the campaign to free the Guildford Four - she appeared as a character in the film In the Name of the Father) and a speaker from the Green Party who is also a lawyer. I was a bit worried when I noticed that a few men had their faces covered, but the extremist idiots didn’t turn up. I mentioned this to Adnan, who said that the presence of a few non-Muslims is enough to keep people like that away.

Then again, given the company Phillips keeps, it seems likely that she would find any excuse to attack the demonstration. She repeats the accusation in another entry today attacking Stockport council (in north-west England) for using material from the MCB to teach schoolchildren about Islam, citing their role in organising “a recent demonstration in London at which demonstators chanted: ‘Kill, kill USA’, ‘Kill, kill George Bush’, ‘Bomb, bomb New York’ …” as among the reasons why they are apparently not fit to teach children about Islam. It seems that Melanie Phillips did not make even the most basic enquiries into what actual links existed between the MCB, and other organisers, and the sloganisers. The bottom line is, there were none.

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