The anti EDL rally: A view

Sometimes, our Great Leader is capable of making a cutting remark. In his February speech on the ‘Failure of Multiculturalism’, David Cameron said:

‘when a white person holds objectionable views – racism, for example – we rightly condemn them.

But when equally unacceptable views or practices have come from someone who isn’t white, we’ve been too cautious, frankly even fearful, to stand up to them’

Cameron’s words were ringing in my ears as I attended Unite Against Fascism’s (UAF) rally against the English Defence League in East London’s Whitechapel last Sunday. The rally was in response to a same day demonstration by the far right group, led by convicted football hooligan Tommy Robinson, in the predominantly Muslim area.

Gathered opposite the East London mosque (ELM), we were witness to several speakers making stirring speeches denouncing the EDL, and celebrating tolerance and diversity – All to the good, one might say, and the best response to the ‘modern day blackshirts’ – Indeed, so forthright were the speakers in denouncing Racism and Islamophobia that you would assume the only source of intolerance in Whitechapel was the English Defence League. Yet, strangely enough, one of the speakers was Dilowar Khan of the ELM, an institution with a record on promoting tolerance and diversity that appears to be, at best, inconsistent.

Google search “East London Mosque” and “homophobia”, and witness the number of relevant results. The first few links will be to the blog of Daily Telegraph journalist Andrew Gilligan, who has become somewhat of anti – ELM activist. Gilligan has a plethora of posts on the mosque. He accuses them, among other things, of hosting racist and homophobic speakers and having close links to the Islamic Forum of Europe, a group that has been condemned by other local Muslim and community groups as ‘fascistic’. Of 22 IFE trustees Gilligan says, only 5 have not also been trustees or officeholders of the mosque.

More striking criticism of the ELM comes from local gay rights campaigners in this open letter – written after a recorded 21% increase in homophobic hate crime in Tower Hamlets – accusing the mosque of ‘creating an atmosphere in which hate is socially acceptable’. The letter lists numerous homophobic preachers who have spoken at the mosque and their colourful statements on homosexuality. See this video for an example of the atmosphere the ELM promotes for homosexuals.

Predictably, all of this was overlooked in the UAF counter protest; there apparently being a stern line taken against whites peddling prejudice and a very lax one against prejudice inside the East London Mosque.

Nevertheless, I feel a certain hesitation writing this piece. Muslims are an easy target for the media, and in attacking a Muslim institution for being intolerant, there’s a danger of perpetuating an intolerance of British Muslims in general. As the open letter points out, there are 80,000 Muslims in Tower Hamlets; only 4,000 of them, or 5%, attend the ELM.  Moreover, the protest organisers may say the point was to focus on the danger posed by the EDL, and not on failings of the mosque.

But if we are to fight the EDL with demands for tolerance and respect for diversity, but apply them only selectively, then such calls ring very hollow. London’s largest mosque is quick to use the language of tolerance against external Islamophobia but is apparently tongue tied in response to prejudice closer to home; which only tars the reputation of the community it serves and amplifies the mistrust that is ammunition for Tommy Robinson and his ilk. That’s something Unite Against Fascism should bear in mind the next time they are in Whitechapel.

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