A comprehensive article about the debate that was to be held at Conway Hall between the “Muslim Debate Initiative”, which believes that the far right is best engaged in open debate rather than banned, and “Tommy Robinson” (really Stephen Lennon) of the English Defence League:
Like all far-right organisations, the EDL puts a lot of effort into acquiring a veneer of political legitimacy, obfuscating over their real aims and ideology in order to present themselves as a mainstream organisation that deserves to be given a hearing. The reality they try to hide, of course, is that the EDL is a movement of racist street thugs, many of them with fascist links, whose central purpose is to attack the Muslim community. As anyone who follows the coverage on Islamophobia Watch can confirm, hardly a week goes by without EDL members appearing in court charged with offences involving racist abuse, intimidation and assault …
In addition to all this, nobody can suppose that Lennon would have turned up at Conway Hall next week on his own – he would certainly have been accompanied by a gang of his thuggish supporters. The MDI was therefore not merely giving a platform to Lennon himself but was in practice extending an open invitation to a mob of violent racists to descend on the area where the meeting was held. While MDI members could happily return to the safety of their homes at the end of the event, local people would have been faced with the prospect of EDL hooligans getting tanked up in a nearly pub and then looking for some “scum” (their collective term for Muslims and political opponents) to intimidate.
This was one reason why Camden Trades Council, which unlike MDI represents people who actually live and work in the area, raised strenuous objections to the debate with Lennon taking place. As indeed did the local MP, Frank Dobson.
In defence of their decision to offer Lennon a platform, MDI asserts that “the Muslim community overwhelmingly welcome such debates, and are eager for such open and frank discussions to occur”. In which case, perhaps MDI should try rearranging the debate with Lennon at a venue in an area with a large Muslim population – in the centre of Tower Hamlets, say – and see how favourably the Muslim community responds to the arrival of the EDL leader and his followers in their neighbourhood.
The MDI is a pretty obscure outfit, which I had never heard of before today, and mostly organises “dialogue” events between representatives of Islam and Christianity, and I also have never heard of either of their two main speakers, ‘Abdullah al-Andalusi” (which I suspect may be a pseudonym) and Sami Zaatari. I am not that fond of the debate format, because it is treated as a sport and is not really about establishing truth but about who can deliver the most effective knock-out ‘argument’ regardless of whether a bystander could identify it as a rhetorical trick which does not advance the argument one bit. It is disrespectful to treat religion as mere entertainment, and it is preposterous to think we can invite the Far Right to play one of the little games we play with the evangelicals and think they will play by the rules. As this extract shows, their history demonstrates that they probably would not, but in any case, we know what the EDL think by what they shout during their demonstrations. Why should anyone bother listening to Lennon’s evasive, semi-sanitised version?
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