Unity but not much peace at ExCeL

I managed to get to Global Peace and Unity 2008 this year, for the first time since 2006 (and that, like this time, was because I managed to blag a free ticket off another attendee; I couldn’t spare £20 for one afternoon). GPU, for anyone who has never had the pleasure, is a big Muslim gathering, with an exhibition for Muslim business and charity, some talks and nasheeds, and this year a skateboarding display (?!), in a big exhibition venue. This venue was ExCeL in east London, which I found not to be satisfactory. In fact, I had forgotten what an awful venue ExCeL was (it’s irritating even to type, let’s face it). However, I did manage to make a few connections, which could lead to some media opportunities for me, so I shouldn’t complain too much, especially when the sister who gave me a free ticket is probably reading this, but there were a few problems that really need airing if these events are to be a success in future. (More: iMuslim, Suspect Paki [1], [2].)

First, when I got there, I noticed that the Muslims coming in were having their bags searched, while the (mostly white) people going into another exhibition were not. I went through their side, and was redirected through the “Muslim channel” only when I told management which exhibition I was there for (i.e. they were not going to search me because I am white). Not only did they scan my bag, they insisted on scanning my umbrella as well! I complained to one of the security staff on the way out, and was told that the reason was because there had been a stabbing at the event on Saturday, and that is why the management had insisted on searching everyone. However, since that incident really was a one-off, and stabbings (particularly fatal ones) involving Muslims in London are really not that common, was it really necessary to scan everyone, rather than scan bags randomly? After all, any racist nut could have brought a bag in the other lane and left it in the exhibition. I intend to write to the management, insha Allah.

Next complaint is that there was almost no food available at the event, other than the standard contract catering establishments in the concourse, most of which were not halaal. The excuse was that, last year, these same establishments had complained that the in-hall catering had deprived them of business. Worse, a search of the GPU website has only four hits for “food”, none of which is a warning that there would be almost no halaal catering at the event. People do not go to an all-day event and not expect there not to be any food available. If they could not provide it, they should have given directions to where the nearest facilities were; if there were none nearby (and I suspect that was the case), they should have found another venue.

Third, the exhibition hall was noisy beyond belief. I really struggled to hold conversations with some of the people I met, and talking above the general noise and that caused by the nasheed concert and skateboarding spectators really made my throat hurt. This and the catering situation should make the organisers seriously consider finding a more civilised venue for next year’s GPU, even if it has to be smaller. I suggest Olympia, which is in the middle of town and not way out in east London (on a day when most of the north-south rail links across east London were closed for engineering, and only the Docklands was open) and there are halaal restaurants within easy reach (i.e. in Shepherds’ Bush, and there are Persian restaurants nearby; not sure how halal they are).

Fourth, the timekeeping was abysmal. The one talk I really wanted to get to was by ENGAGE, the new media monitoring group, and that was originally scheduled for 3pm, but had to be put back, supposedly because the end of British Summer Time had thrown everything out of kilter. Sorry, but the move from BST to GMT adds an extra hour to Sunday, rather than removing it as is the case in the Spring. How could they justify everything being an hour late because an extra hour had been added to the night? And if there had been problems, they should have put out a revised timetable.

As an aside, the Policy Exchange (the Tory think-tank based around the clique David Cameron belongs to) circulated a dossier (Word document) encouraging people not to speak at the event, which included among its evidence material sourced from David Gaubatz of the “Society of Americans for National Existence”, which made a lame attempt to penetrate Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Virginia, USA, which was documented by Tariq Nelson (hat tip: Islamophobia Watch, although the story traces to Politics Home. This same organisation calls for “adherence to Shari’a” to be punishable by 20 years in prison, and for the US Congress to declare war on the Muslim Umma; their definition of “adherence to Shari’a” is:

“Shari’a” shall be defined as any set of rules, precepts, instructions, or edicts which are said to emanate directly or indirectly from the god of Allah or the prophet Mohammed and which include directly or indirectly the encouragement of any person to support in any way the abrogation, destruction, or violation of the US Constitution or the destruction of the national existence of the United States of America. Any rule, precept, instruction, or edict arising from the extant rulings of any of the five authoritative schools of Islamic jurisprudence (the Hanafi, the Maliki, the Shafi’i, the Hanbali, or the Ja’afariya school or fiqh) are prima facie Shari’a without any further evidentiary showing.

So, Policy Exchange, an organisation close to the leadership of the Tory party, circulated a dossier citing “evidence” source from a bunch of discredited Muslim-hating cranks in the USA. They should really be exposed and humiliated for this. However, one of the speakers attacked in that dossier is the rabbi from Neturei Karta, and I do not see why that organisation seems to be represented at one Muslim event after another when they are thoroughly unrepresentative of their own community. Can people not see that Jews, including those with pro-Palestinian sympathies (like Independent Jewish Voices), would have no more sympathy for a Jewish rabbi who participates in an Iranian Holocaust denial conference than we would have for the likes of Massimo “Abdul-Hadi” Palazzi? Who do they think they are fooling? Anyway, why do Muslim events have to have speeches from priests and rabbis? I can understand the utility of having a couple of politicians making a few blandishments, but how often do our imams get to address conferences of other religions?

Anyway, I really do hope that attending these events does not become a tiresome necessity if you want to work in the Muslim media, because they are noisy and, unless you like the person giving the particular talk or nasheed concert that’s on at any given moment, somewhat tedious. The event should be scaled down, there should be food readily available, there should be keynote talks from noted scholars or imams of various persuasions rather than a lengthy list of quarter-hour slots, and it should be in a less noisy and more accessible venue than ExCeL. However, I am glad I went, I made some worthwhile connections and saw some old friends I hadn’t seen in a while, but I really do not know if I would pay money to go to another if I could not get a free ticket and the circumstances of the event were the same as yesterday.

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