Demonstration on 3rd September to go ahead, but march banned by the Home Secretary
On Saturday, London will host one of biggest carnivals outside of Rio de Janeiro. For three days, the streets of Notting Hill will be awash with people, all relishing the sights and sounds and hoping for at least a little of that famous British sunshine.
Unfortunately, the carnival is also a hotbed of criminal activity. Every year, drug gangs, thieves and warring gangs use the festivities as cover for their nefarious activities, and in past years there have been instances where the police have struggled to control hostile crowds.
In 1976, rioting broke out and 100 police officers were hospitalised. There were 66 arrests.
In 2006, there were 391 recorded crimes and 214 arrests made.
In 2007, 206 people were arrested, two people were shot, there were an undetermined number of stabbing victims, and a total of 336 crimes reported.
In 2008, there were running battles with the police and the police made 330 arrests. 21 dangerous dogs were also seized.
In 2010, the police bill topped a whopping £6 million, and two people were stabbed during the festival. That year, 235 people were arrested, four for gun crime. 53 arrests were made by British Transport police alone.
So far this year, there have already been two petrol bombs launched at passing police vehicles, and 35 people have been arrested for inciting people to riot on the day of the carnival.
Every year there are serious incidents, some of which are reported by the media, and many that go unrecorded. Every year there is unshackled anti-social behaviour which, in ordinary circumstances, would not be tolerated by the police. Perhaps it’s the scale of the event, or just the party atmosphere, but the police do turn a blind eye to much of this criminal activity.
This year, 10,000 officers will be deployed to police the event – the largest number ever. That is only a third less than the number of officers that were brought in to (gradually) restore order to the streets during the recent riots and looting. With such widespread criminality still only a very recent memory, the police are clearly concerned that there could be similar outbreaks of criminal damage and violence.
Already the police have been making pre-emptive arrests ahead of the event, and are expected to make many more. They make similar efforts every year, but this time the police are also thought to be making a concerted effort to clamp down on people using social media to incite trouble. Already there are reports of anarchists and radical activists organising public gatherings, and we understand that individual officers are becoming more and more anxious about the possibility of organised criminals hijacking the event.
Odd then, that it is the EDL march in Tower Hamlets on the following weekend that Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has decided to ban. How many EDL supporters have been arrested for any kind of incitement? None, of course.
We’re certainly not saying that it is the Notting Hill carnival that should be banned or face any kind of harsh restrictions on its attractions: the carnival brings joy to thousands of people, and attracts tourists from around the world. But placing a ban on the EDL march gives out completely the wrong message. It suggests that the government is far happier restricting our democratic right to peaceful protest than it would be to make sensible demands of the festival organisations that would help to minimise the number of officers required to police the event.
When there is a very real risk of rioting, widespread criminal damage and other lawlessness, the government has make clear that it will spend a vast amount of public money on the necessary police presence, but place no restrictions on the event. There is far less of a risk of there being any disorder at the EDL demonstration on 3rd September, and yet we learn that restrictions will still be imposed. We will be allowed our demonstration, but there will be no march. Why the double-standard?
It is true to say that, although most EDL marches have been entirely peaceful, there have been problems in the past. But that was before we recruited a dedicated stewarding team, and before the police began to realise that the majority of trouble at demonstrations originates with the UAF. This is an organisation that follows us up and down the country inciting loosely organised Muslim gangs, such as the so-called Muslim Defence League, to violence. We’ve grown used to there being a very clear pattern: no UAF, no trouble.
Nowadays, the anti-extremism aims of our organisation are clear, and there is no reason to think that an EDL demonstration would contain any dangerous elements or that our presence would provoke more than the usual shrill, misinformed condemnation that we are used to from members of the far-Left.
But there’s another reason why banning our march sends out the wrong message. It suggests that it is the EDL, and not the extremism that we demonstrate about, which needs to be kept in check. The Home Secretary is inadvertently aiding radical Muslims, the far Left, and any other groups who wish for our criticism of radical Islam to be delegitimised. She is inadvertently telling the people of Britain that their concerns about the spread of radical Islam do not need to be treated with the respect they deserve, and that criticism of radical Islam can and should be censored. If nothing else, that sounds exactly like the arguments used by radical Muslims themselves.
Banning the EDL march will only serve to enhance radical Islam’s propaganda. If the government demonises and persecutes critics of radical Islam, then the radicals will be encouraged. They will see this as a strong sign that Britain is a country where their hateful ideology can grow, whilst at the same time actually being protected by the state.
We would have hoped that Theresa May would have realised this by now.
If this was the first time that she had banned one our marches, and if it were out of genuine concern for the safety of shop owners or local residents, then her decision could be understood, or even applauded. But, of course, it’s not. Our recent march in Telford, for example, was banned for no reason other than that the government was being petitioned by Muslim advocacy organisations. Why do they want to suppress criticism of radical Islam? Why do they want to target an organisation that, unlike some others, does make great efforts to distinguish between ideology and individuals, and between radical Muslims and ordinary, decent Muslims? Why do they want to misrepresent our aims and call us ‘Islamophobes’?
We believe that the decision to petition for a ban says more about our critics than it does the EDL.
Not surprisingly, the demonstration in Telford passed entirely peacefully. This is typical. When we have marched there is very rarely any violence, very few arrests (only a few for minor public order offences), and no criminal damage. Much of the time we are in fact the victims. If it’s not threats, incitement and purposeful misrepresentation by the UAF, it’s our leader receiving death threats from Muslim gangs (which, at our Luton demonstration, the police took seriously enough to issue Osman warnings).
We do not attack mosques, we do not attack businesses, and we do not attack people. Not only because we have a moral objection to this kind of mindless criminality, but because we know that any such action would be counterproductive to our main aim: protesting the government’s woefully inadequate approach to tackling the threat posed by radical Islam.
It’s time our government abandoned the double-standards and began to recognise what effect discrediting legitimate criticism of radical Islam could have. It might prevent them from having to deal with difficult questions for a few years, but it will allow radical Islam to become even more deeply engrained in this country.
And that’s something that’s certainly worth protesting about.