In all the fuss over who and how many were attending, one important voice was lost. Haroon Sheikh, the Mosque chairman - speaking of both demonstration and counter-demonstration - said, "We would request that the local authority and the police try to put a stop to it. The concern we have is with a large congregation. It's very difficult to control what people would want to do on the day. We would have 200 to 300 people coming here for prayers on a Friday. Emotions will be high if it's provoked, but we will have the police and we will have stewards here."
As it turned out, not many people on either side bothered to listen. The 20 SIOE protesters who turned up were outnumbered by up to 1,000 UAF protesters who repeatedly charged police lines and threw bottles and stones. So far, it was just another UAF gathering, but what made this one different - if only in retrospect - was the presence of Al-Muhijaroun activist Michael Adebolajo, who was captured on video telling a group of UAF protesters that what they did, they did 'for Allah'. Adebolajo was one of the two men arrested recently for the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby.
It is not so much the presence of Adebolajo which is the problem: at the time, he had done nothing illegal, and was as entitled as anyone to be there, even if the local Mosque had asked for people to not attend. No, the thing which is striking about it is the response of UAF since the murder occurred. Weyman Bennett, the UAF leader, has batted away implied criticism with a statement that Adebolajo was 'not on the platform, and was not an official speaker'. While Adebolajo was speaking, a procession of UAF and trades union flags passed within yards, so his words were hardly a surprise to Bennett and his SWP colleague Martin Smith, who passed just feet away.
|UAF and Trades Union banners passed within feet of |
Michael Adebolajo at the Harrow protest....
|...as he was spewing his message of Hate, not Hope|
There is no love lost between Hope not Hate and the UAF, although there does seem to be a thawing of relations since HnH was taken over by Nick Lowles. Under the Gables' stewardship, HnH recognised that far from being part of the solution, UAF were a part of the problem: the other side of the racist violence coin. Lowles seems to take a more relaxed view, as reports on EDL marches over the past few years demonstrate on HnH's twitter and Facebook feed: the reporters seemed to glory in the violence of running battles between the EDL and UAF, although as most of Hope not Hate's 'feet on the street' were previously BNP activists who a decade earlier would have been in there with fists and boots flying, this is perhaps not surprising.
As Andrew Gilligan discusses in his Telegraph article, the actions of the UAF do not detract from the rise in tensions, they add to it, a point then Harrow Council leader David Ashton made back in 2009: "We are saddened and dismayed that groups from outside the borough have come here and caused unrest. Harrow has an excellent record in community relations and we condemn those who came to our borough from elsewhere to either foist extreme political opinions on us or use religion as a cover for causing trouble."
All of this leaves Hope not Hate's core purpose - fighting racism and fascism - looking rather neglected. Where is the condemnation of Bennett and UAFs pitiful excuses for Adebolajo's presence at the Harrow protest? Back in 2009, nobody knew what Adebolajo would go on to do, but with the benefit of hindsight it is clear that he was an extremist with a future no less notorious than Anders Breivik, even if the number he left dead was smaller. Speaking against Breivik in an article in the Guardian last September, Lowles said, "Sadly, there are many others at large who share his warped ideology. Seventeen people in the UK....have been imprisoned in recent years for terrorist-related offences": the words I have removed and replaced with '....' were 'with far right views'. With those four words removed, it applies as much to UAF as it does to the EDL and the BNP.
But if Hope not Hate can launch an investigation into links between the far right and Anders Breivik and display its results as symptomatic of the approval of the former for the latter, why does the far left not also warrant a similar investigation? With Al Muhajiroun ostensibly a target for Hope not Hate, where is the investigation into the links between the boot boys of the UAF and Anjem Choudhary and Michael Adebojalo?
I will not win many friends in the EDL and BNP by suggesting that such sloppy thinking would not have been a part of Hope not Hate's approach under the Gables' stewardship, but it remains true. Lowles very much takes the view that 'if God is with us, who can be against us', and feels that however fascist the far left becomes, and whatever terrorist organisations it mixes with, the righteousness of his cause outweighs any concerns.
This may have been true were he not simultaneously attempting to make Hope not Hate less a tool to be used against racism, and more a tool to be used against what he perceives to be the political right.
Part of the problem for Lowles is the continued presence at the top of the UAF of such noted Labour Party activists as Ken Livingstone, Diane Abbott and Glyn Ford. Despite UAF being effectively an SWP front organisation, such high profile Labour politicians at its top table - even if they are without meaningful power - makes an attack or even an investigation into UAF politically unpalatable for Lowles. To brand the UAF as fascist would be to brand sections of the Labour Party fascist as well, and that is counter to Lowles purpose as he seeks to align Hope not Hate ever more closely with the Labour Party.
Whether such hypocritical evasions are tenable remains to be seen. Certainly the poor attendance to date at his anti-UKIP meetings have lead to the rebranding discussed yesterday: better to climb on the Woolwich bandwagon and hope nobody notices the tolerance shown by the hard left to Al Mujahiroun in the past. We can not believe that the majority of Hope not Hate support will put up with such hypocrisy for long.