Friday, November 6, 2009

A good day for democracy

Shaaz Mahboob

Last week, I wrote on Cif about the pressing need for democrats – of all faiths and none – to counter-demonstrate against the radical group Islam4UK on Saturday.

Headed by former al-Muhajiroun UK leader Anjem Choudary, the organisation's website frothed about "what Trafalgar Square would look like under sharia" and had originally cited it as the location for their "March for sharia".

Our movement was born out of years of collective frustration at the incendiary antics of groups like these, who distort the teachings of Islam for their own political expediency.

Moreover, we wanted to stand up for values such as legal and constitutional equality for all, equal rights for women and minorities, and religious freedom, including the right to be free of any faith.

Today, we can hold our heads in pride. At the 11th hour, we heard that Islam4UK were cancelling their demonstration, rumours that were initially dismissed as the Choudary camp's standard tactical manoeuvring.

When it later emerged that Islam4UK had indeed sheepishly withdrawn from their own protest, the official reason doing the rounds was that English Defence League members had made death threats towards Anjem Choudary.

What an irony. Al-Muhajiroun have repeatedly praised the 9/11 terrorists as "magnificent" yet they wholly failed to muster up the moral courage to square up to their first challenge from Muslim democrats. They ran scared – terrified by the prospect of an intellectual duel of conflicting viewpoints, in full view of the media and the public.

Who knows. Perhaps al-Muhajiroun did receive threats from other far right groups, and were genuinely frightened of the "bigger bully in the playground". The bottom line is this: had al-Muhajiroun dared to march on the streets of London, they would have been outnumbered to the point of toe-curling embarrassment.

For since we launched our campaign three weeks ago, we have been inundated from messages of support and interview requests from places as far afield as Sudan and Australia. Our satirical YouTube video – which made it clear that the offensive demands of groups like Islam4UK are only on the fringe – has had 10,000 hits in just five days, in its various versions.

We have a website:, at which we encourage all our friends and supporters to leave their email addresses.

We have also had extensive coverage in the blogosphere. For every comment that derides our support for secular democracy and one-law-for-all, there are six voices of encouragement.

Sadly, we were not joined by the Islamic Society of Britain and Inayat Bunglawala's group, Muslims4UK, who called off their own counter-demonstration. Also, disappointingly, we discovered that Inayat Bunglawala had formally requested that the police set up a separate pen, so that they would not have to stand with pro-democracy and anti-sharia Muslim groups such as us. This sort of sectarianism is incredibly damaging, not only to Muslims, but Britain as a whole.

Undeterred, British Muslims for Secular Democracy and our supporters went ahead, surrounding the base of Eros with a thriving pro-democracy movement. Piccadilly Circus was teeming with journalists, bloggers, human rights activists, organisations from different shades of the political spectrum, and followers of a wide variety of religious beliefs and none (including Vaclav Havel, the former Czech president).

We wish to thank all individuals and groups who turned out on the day – as well as those who were there in spirit – to proclaim the virtues of liberal democracy.

This was a day when everyone set aside their differences and stood shoulder-to-shoulder against the bigots who dream of taking away our freedom and liberty, yet do not see the irony in using exactly these concepts to spread their hate-filled messages.

Source: The Guardian

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