How many Muslims has Wootton Bassett?

A guy called Shaaz Mahboob, one of the founder members of the so-called British Muslims for Secular Democracy (along with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Taj Hargey), has written a guest post on Pickled Politics accusing British Muslims of lacking compassion for British troops by failing to publically mourn or otherwise acknowledge the deaths of British soldiers in the war in Afghanistan. He is probably correct in that few Muslims turn out on the so-called Heroes’ Highway to greet the convoys of military vehicles bringing dead soldiers home and wounded ones to hospital in Oxfordshire. However, there are a few perfectly good reasons why that is so.

First off, Wootton Bassett is a small village in Wiltshire, which is the setting for some of these parades simply because it is on the road from RAF Lyneham to the nearest junction on the M4 motorway. There is no by-pass. You can see this on a map here. How many Muslims do you normally find in small towns in England? Not that many. The convoys don’t go through Swindon, where there are plenty of us, but then, they would probably do the same as in Luton (i.e. stay away) if they did. Bassett, as it’s colloquially known, is described in today’s Guardian as “a patriotic sort of place anyway” because there are “lots of ex-military people around here because so many bases are close by”. So a fair number who turned out might have been ex-military personnel or their families and friends anyway (this might also have been the case in Luton).

He accuses those who took action against al-Muhajiroun in Luton of having done so only “fearing a backlash from the rest of the British public, not for their love and respect for the British soldiers”. Actually, they did so after a mosque and Islamic school, attended by Muslims who had nothing to do with the small gang of al-Muhajiroun troublemakers who staged the much-publicised demo in Luton, was damaged in an arson attack. The ‘backlash’ came not from “the rest of the British public” but from organised gangs of football hooligans. Perhaps it’s true that Muslims have tolerated them for years, but if they had not done, the Muhajiroun would have been protected by the police as they had been at the anti-army demo, and the Muslims involved would have been arrested. It was also the first time the Muhajiroun had explicitly targeted the army; normally, they confine themselves to shouting slogans in the streets and making inflammatory statements to the very eager press. The anger had been simmering against them for some time.

I will also freely admit that Muslims are generally alienated from the British armed forces, and had been long before the post-9/11 wars. As a convert from a lower-middle-class background, joining the army would never have crossed my mind and nobody in my family has done since the end of the Second World War; surely Muslims are not alone in not turning out for “the boys”. Most Muslims are non-white, and the forces have a reputation for being a white institution with a substantial racist element. The wars they have been fighting are generally seen as wars against Islam, wars to control resources, wars to please the US government and wars which the Muslims have no reason to support. However, it’s also not true that Muslims don’t support the troops. Muslims pay taxes, and guess where the money for these wars come from? We don’t need to prove anything by turning out to greet the troops as they happen to pass through a small Wiltshire town.

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