The Fash get a Harrow education
A BUNCH of bigots, bullies and assorted members of the Master Race are fuming this weekend over their humiliation at the hands of Muslim youth and anti-fascists in the London borough of Harrow. It was Friday, the Muslim sabbath, and the middle of Ramadan. In Harrow, as in mosques throughout Britain, an extra prayer had been ordered for the victims of the 9/11 attacks, regardless of religion. But for some anti-Muslim groups the anniversary of the terror attacks was seen as a good time to choose for a demonstration in Harrow against "Islamic extremism". Outside the mosque.
No matter that the Harrow mosque has no connection with "extremism", let alone with 9/11. A new mosque is still under construction next to what were plainly inadequate premises for the local Muslim community. For the anti-Muslim campaigners the mere sight of its minaret arising proudly over the neighbourhood is cause for outrage. They alleged the new building was being extended to include a sharia court, though both the mosque and the local authority which had given planning permission denied this.
The sharia matter is a phoney issue anyway. As with Jewish rabbinical courts, sharia courts in Britain can only deal with religious, family and commercial disputes among members of the faith concerned, and where both parties agree to submit to their judgement. They do not supersede the law of the land. It is true that women in both communities have their criticisms of religious authority. But neither are anxious to be "liberated" from patriarchal family values and tradition by a bunch of hooligans whose heroic traditions stem variously from the Chelsea Headhunters and Adolf Hitler.
The current season of clashes over Islam ostensibly began on March 10, with a peculiar demonstration by Muslims in Luton. Peculiar, in that it was not against some fresh atrocity or escalation of war in Iraq, Afghanistan or Palestine, but against a homecoming parade by troops of the Royal Anglian Regiment. Peculiar also in that Luton has one of the largest Muslim communities in Britain, nearly 15 per cent of the town's population. Many have taken part in anti-war demonstrations and protests. But this time the demonstrators numbered eight, and even some of them had to be brought from out of town.. The leader was a former activist in al -Muhajiroun, already banned from the Luton mosque, as well as by the British government.
Without ignoring the behaviour of British or US troops in Iraq, or Afghanistan, the anti-war movement concentrates on attacking the policies of the governments which have sent them to these places, not on blaming the men and women for the orders they carry out. With a majority of the British public, including families of military personnel, against, or at very least questioning these policies, there is no reason to assume that people who turn out to show respect for the soldiers or relief at their return home, are in agreement with the wars. The pro-war media might like you to think that. But the eight young men in Muslim dress shouted abuse against the soldiers. The police let them provoke a response from the crowd, and the media gave the scene full prominence. At the risk of being called a conspiracy theorist I must admit to having wondered who wrote the script.
Next thing was an arson attack on Luton mosque, and then a number of anti-Muslim groups and individuals from the British National Party, together with known football hooligans, trying a march in Luton on Easter Monday, followed by a bigger one on May 24, when some turned to turned to attacking shops and cars. Next it was the turn of Birmingham.on July 4, when people were attacked in the street, and again on August 8, when the English Defence League, which operates with an outfit called United Casuals, tried to persuade interviewers it was not racist, not even anti-Muslim, only anti-"Islamic extremist", against those who were attacking "our troops" while a woman kept chanting "this is OUR country, we were born here". Again thire was trouble, with some of the Muslim youth unable to contain their anger.
There was some confusion about just who was planning the Harrow event, whether it was English Defence League, as many assumed, or a group called Stop Islamiification of Europe (SIOE), which seems to have been the case. SIOE too claims it is not fascist or racist, but just against mosques. "Islamophobia is common sense" was one slogan. A look at its website shows support for Serb nationalists over Kosova, and for Israel (thanks a million, or several). There also appear to be links between SIOE, EDL and other right-wing groups.
Anyway, having seen some of the internet publicity on sites like "Stormfront", as well as what happened in other places, people who gathered to oppose the Harrow demo had a fair idea what sort of characters to expect.
As it happened there was no anti-Muslim demo in Harrow.on Friday. From about 1pm, people thronging out of the mosque were joined by others coming to defend it, while acros the road a newly formed Harrow United Against Fascism set up stalls and distributed placards. Some shops were boarded up, as it turned out unnecessarily. Trades unionists from the PCS union, Watford Trades Union Council, and TGWU Unite came with banners and flags, students from Harrow college nnd local schools arrived, and by late afternoon the crowd had swelled across the road. Labour MP John McNulty came and spoke, and later speakers included Steve Hart from Unite, Nick Grant of the National Union of Teachers, and a Unite rep from local bus garages.
Meanwhile the youth were gaining confidence without losing any of the anger that had built up at the pereived threat to their mosque and community. The slightest glimpse of any suspected anti-Muslim demonstrators attempting to sneak up across the civic centre car park or down nearby side streets was enough to send them swarming across to attack. Police withdrew from the mosque area to form a cordon blocking the way to Harrow and Wealdstone station, where the fascists were supposed to be gathering. It was left to an imam and stewards from the mosque to part the waves in the dense crowd so three buses could get away.
By 7pm it was clear the anti-Muslims would have no march and they were the ones who would need defending. Stephen Gash of the SIOE was arrested for his own protection, and so were some skinheads who had been trying to reach the site from Harrow centre, unaware of the reception that awaited them. Some of the youth who had wanted to get at the fascists ended up throwing sticks and stones at riot police, and ten arrests were made.
Some anti-fascists discussing the campaign against Muslims assumed the British National Party (BNP) had something to do with it, recalling how the far-Right party used violent clashes in Oldham and other towns to boost its vote in the North. Certainly some BNP individuals, notably from Luton, are involved. Others suspect at the BNP's rivals on the far-Right, as well as members straining on the lead against Nick Griffin's turn to 'respectable' electoral politics. Labour's minister for communities John Denham has compared those involved to Mosley's blackshirts with their forays into Jewish areas in the 1930s. But Harrow MP McNulty says this is giving them too much significance.
Some people on yesterday's UAF stall would accept the reference to the Battle of Cable Street, in 1936, and mention how black people and anti-racists confronted the National Front in the battle of Lewisham, in 1977.
It has to be said that the rabble which the EDL and SIOE have organised hardly match Mosley's well-resourced pre-war fascists with their uniforms and military discipline. But nor are their "anti-terrorist" gambits entirely new. We can think back to the Napoleonic wars for the "throne and altar" mobs combining booze, patriotism and reactionary violence, or First World War attacks on anyone sounding German; or come forward to other campaigns attempting to brand entire communities by supposed association with "terrorism".
In the late 1940s the fascists tried to revive their movement by stirring up anti-Jewish feeling over the terrorist attacks on British forces in Palestine. They were not without success in some areas, though when they invaded the Hightown area of Manchester near where I grew up they had to be rescued by police, and some of them had to be taken to the Jewish Hospital. (I was four years old at the time, and only heard about these stirring events years later. I don't know if they have entered recorded history). Then in the 1980s the National Front made links with Ulster Loyalists, and fascists tried to turn football chants of "No surrender to the IRA" into organised gang attacks on Irish people in Kilburn.
The very appearance of chaos among today's far-Right groups, with alliances forming then coming apart, and
rival leaders whose line seems to depend who is listening, has its advantages for them. Those who concentrate on one issue - anti-Islam - can con members of other minorities, winning their support or at least weakening opposition. If the Muslim communities feel vulnerable, and youth feel isolated and turn to extremism, or blindly hit out, that suits those whose overall goal is to divide people. 'Respectable' right-wing leaders can disown those caught in provocations and violence, while still hoping to benefit from the atmosphere that is created.
For all that, though what happened in Harrow was not without its problems (some people may have been wrongly attacked, or frightened of attack), it was a good day. The 'fash' ( fascists) have had their Harrow education - and for those football hooligans who might have come looking for any excuse to cause mayhem, as for those tossers who tell themselves they are the Master Race, there can be little fun in seeing your leaders taken away for their own protection, needing it yourself, or simply having to give up your march, and plans for the evening.
For the youth who came to defend their mosque and community, there is not only the satisfaction that they won, but the realisation that they were not alone. Those who give it some thought may realise there is more to beating prejudice and hostile forces than one punch-up, and more to securing your future than controlling the street for one evening. Then hopefully, those trade union flags and banners, and people with political leaflets and papers, talking about working-class unity, may come to mind, and have some meaning.