by Caroline Colebrook
THOUSANDS of Muslims gathered in Trafalgar Square last Saturday to present the peaceful face of Islam and to show their concern at growing Islamophobia in the West.
Also present were many non-Muslims: peace activists, representatives of other religions, to demonstrate their solidarity with Muslims facing discrimination and oppression.
This followed a smaller demonstration in the previous week outside the Danish Embassy where a different group of Muslims, protesting at the now notorious Danish cartoons, had called for violence against non-Muslims.
The pictures of this demonstration, splashed across the media, fuelled more anti-Islamophobia and helped the Government in its efforts to sell its draconian proposed anti-terrorist legislation.
The masses attending Saturday’s rally were determined to distance themselves from this but nevertheless to express their anger at the Danish cartoons and what they represent in a world where the western imperialists have invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and are threatening other Muslim countries and those who resist are demonised as terrorists.
Speaking for the Muslim Council of Britain – one of the groups who organised the event – Inayat Bunglawala said: “The reasons for the rally are two-fold. We want to allow peaceful expression of the hurt caused by the publication of the cartoons but we also want to allow people to publicly distance themselves from the extremists because for most of Britain this is the only impression they have of Muslims in this country.”
Faiz Siddiqi, of the Muslim Action Committee, said: “What is being called for is a change of culture. In any civilised society, if someone says, ‘don’t insult me’ you do not, out of respect for them. Europe has a history of not treating minorities properly. The Holocaust is an example of that. The imagery being used today is the same kind that Hitler used against the Jews. Look where that ended up: in world war.”
Coaches brought protesters from Bradford, Oldham, Luton, Leicester, Birmingham, Cardiff and Glasgow. Hundreds of placards and banners carried peaceful slogans, condemning incitement.
Speakers at the rally included Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn and Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather. Respect MP George Galloway faced a subdued reception, which included some booing, as he addressed the crowd.
London mayor Ken Livingstone also supported the rally and told the crowd: “I am supporting this event because, unlike some of the BBC’s coverage, it will allow the views of the mainstream Muslim community to be properly heard.”
Speaking of the cartoons, Livingstone said: “There is no excuse for breaking the law and anyone who does so should and will face prosecution. But there is no getting away from the fact that this whole episode has allowed much of Europe’s media to engage in an orgy of Islamophobia.”