Tuesday 26 July 2011

Exclusive extract: East London Mosque’s Dilowar Khan

In a new book, Dilowar Khan, director of the East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre, describes how local people united against the racist English Defence League in Tower Hamlets last year.

The book, Defending Multiculturalism – a guide for the movement, contains a hard-hitting collection of essays, poems, interviews, photos and artwork aimed at defending our multicultural society. It will be launched officially at the TUC congress in September.

In the second of our exlusive extracts from the book, Dilowar describes how the campaign against the EDL built up in Tower Hamlets, east London last year, when the racists were forced to cancel a planned march through the area.

The East London Mosque director is now backing the 3 September national demo against the EDL in Tower Hamlets – a chance to strike a decisive blow against the racist and fascist thugs.

This is an extract from a longer interview with Dilowar Khan – order your copy of Defending Multiculturalism now to read the rest!

People in Tower Hamlets first heard about the EDL after they planned an attack on the Harrow mosque in north west London in September 2009. People helped spread the word of a counter-demonstration by text and many of our young people went to help defend the community in Harrow from attack.

When they got there they found that the mosque had worked with many others, including other faith groups and trade unions, and that Muslims were not on their own against the EDL

About the book

This hard-hitting book includes essays by Peter Hain MP, Professor Tariq Modood, Liz Fekete, Professor Danny Dorling, Salma Yaqoob, Ken Livingstone, Sabby Dhalu, Billy Hayes, Edie Friedman, Martin Smith, Weyman Bennett and Dilowar Khan.

Plus poetry by Michael Rosen, Benjamin Zephaniah, Zita Holbourne and Avaes Mohammed and photo essays by Rehan Jamil and Kelvin Williams. Price: £8.00.

Buy it now!

So when the EDL threatened us in Tower Hamlets, we decided to use the same model. The EDL, inspired by the documentaries and writings of journalists such as Andrew Gilligan, Martin Bright and others, claimed that Muslims were attempting to turn Tower Hamlets into an Islamic state, which is absolute nonsense.

When the Dutch anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders came to Britain in March 2010, the EDL came to support him and brought placards that read “Close down the East London Mosque”. From then we started to hear rumours that they were going to come here to attack us. In June 2010 they singled out an Islamic conference and mounted a campaign calling for it to be banned for having so-called “radical” speakers.

This wasn’t true, a fact that both the police and the local council confirmed. Despite this, the conference had to be cancelled and this infuriated many young people in particular. They now felt as though everyone was against them

But one local resident, Glyn Robbins, took the initiative and got a campaign to defend the mosque up and running. He sent round a letter saying that the EDL was not welcome in Tower Hamlets and from that a meeting was organised with Unite Against Fascism.

A small group of Muslims from the East London Mosque went along and found a large number of non-Muslims there who wanted to join with us to defend the community and we were surprised at how passionate they were about opposing the EDL.

We had gone to the meeting having been advised by our elders that the best thing to do was to ignore the racists and their provocations, which they said would go away eventually. This feeling was echoed by the then leadership of Tower Hamlets council.

Nevertheless, we came away from the meeting feeling that we should resist and that we would not be alone if we did. Something else that convinced me of the need for a counter-demonstration was the knowledge that if we did nothing, the Muslim youth would come out to defend the community regardless, but they would be forced to stand on their own. That would have been a disaster.

An organised protest was the best way to channel their anger in a constructive way. We decided a counter-demonstration would be positive, showing that the wider community was united and would not be divided by racism.

At the meeting I proposed that we have a rally at the London Muslim Centre, which is part of the East London Mosque, involving people of all faiths and none so that we could show that we all stood shoulder to shoulder.

I wanted our young people to see that the majority white people are not racist or bigoted, that we have many friends and allies among them. The East London Mosque has always been part of the wider community, with many different groups using it as a place to meet. We wanted to continue that tradition

In the event, the rally was packed. More than 1,000 people came and we couldn’t fit everyone in. It really lifted everyone’s spirits and proved emphatically that Muslims were not alone. News of the success of the rally spread far and wide, with the Bengali media spreading the word across the country. It also helped defuse some of the tensions between the different youth gangs in the area because people started to see that they had a common enemy in the EDL

The following week we had our counter-demonstration, even though we knew that the EDL had decided against coming to Tower Hamlets. Around 5,000 people came together for a massive show of unity. Everyone was there. The march was young and old, Bengali, Somali, African-Caribbean and English together with people of all faiths and none

The EDL threat served to show that we are not alone—it helped to bring us all together. I think that the main reason that the Muslim community in east London resisted pressure not to hold a counter-demonstration is the long history of anti-racism here. In particular, those of us Muslims who were born and brought up in this country believe we have rights and that we have to stand up for them. Britain is our country too.

Interview by Yuri Prasad from the book Defending Multiculturalism.

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