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We must turn our backs on EDL 'protest' again
6:00am Thursday 10th October 2013 in News
On Saturday, hundreds of demonstrators are expected to descend on Bradford as part of the English Defence League rally in the city centre.
And tomorrow on the eve of the demonstration, religious leaders, faith and community organisations will join together to urge people to celebrate all that is good about Bradford with a celebration event in Centenary Square aimed at bringing people together before the EDL arrive.
Banner organisation Bradford Together, who is organising Friday’s event, said that they are urging people to turn their back on the EDL, with the Muslim Women’s Council praising our “diverse and complicated city which does not need hooligans or extremists spreading suspicion and fear”.
Bradford Women for Peace will be leading the event from noon until 4pm in City Park, with green ribbons distributed for peace, and food stalls and entertainment.
Banner group Bradford Together, made up of HOPE Not Hate, Bradford Women for Peace, Bradford TUC, the Muslim Women’s Council, Bradford Council for Mosques, Unison, Yorkshire and the Humber TUC, as well as many other groups and individuals, will be at the event, where from 4pm to 5.45pm a giant peace wall will be erected with thousands of peace postcards left by Bradfordians.
From 5.45pm to 6pm there will be Silent Interfaith Prayers for Peace with the the Interfaith Prayers for Peace group.
In 2010, when the EDL last held a rally in Bradford, the excellent police operation meant that the EDL and counter-demonstrators were contained, with the public turning their back on the demonstrators.
The public response to the EDL protest was encapsulated by Midland Hotel general manager Gary Peacock, whose hotel was right next door to the rally.
He spoke after the 2010 August event.
His hotel was then the venue for a wedding between Paul and Jessica Lister and he summed up the mood then, as relevant now, by saying at the time: “I believe that the attitude shown by the vast majority of Bradfordians could be summed up when the bride and groom arrived at the hotel.
“As they stepped out of their wedding car, spontaneous applause, whistles, and loud cheers broke out from members of the Asian community then joined by members of all communities in support of Paul and Jessica, who became a symbol of this city’s defiant message to the EDL: Not here, not now and not ever again.”
Imran Hussain, Deputy Leader of Bradford Council:
When the EDL come to town their objectives are clear. Intimidation, provocation and incitement to violence and hatred are their calling cards and Saturday will be no exception.
Make no mistake, the EDL is deeply racist and extremist, home to far right activists, racist bigots and convicted football hooligans. Their attempts to mask their fundamental racism are undone by their relentless attacks on Muslims. Islamophobia is at the core of their message, one that is deeply hurtful and distressing to the vast majority of Muslims including myself.
Don’t just take my word for it. Their leader Tommy Robinson left the EDL this week citing his inability to keep extremists at bay. We will see if he renounces the violence, islamophobia and hatred he has stoked but nevertheless, the message is clear, the EDL is simply a vehicle for extremist racism and violence.
Their behaviour is reminiscent of the National Front and for many of the older generation they are a reminder of an evil that they hoped had disappeared.
The EDL come to Bradford because its diversity represents everything they hate about modern Britain. Its Asian and Muslim populations make it a target for these troublemakers trying to spread their poison.
The rights to free speech and protest are vitally important and help define the democratic values that make our country a beacon of hope across the world. Banning or curbing those freedoms is a serious matter.
But with rights come responsibilities and a balance must be drawn between the two. When free speech is invoked as a pretext for intimidation, provocation and racial and religious hatred then we are obliged to protect the rights of others.
Their web site said the EDL are coming to “once more raise their fists.” This is not the language of legitimate, peaceful protest, it is the rhetoric of confrontation.
When they appear, mob handed, abusing our citizens, particularly our Muslim community, looking to sow division, hatred and disruption we have to ask, what about the rights of ordinary Bradfordians to go about their their lawful business, shopping in town or taking their family to enjoy City Park? Surely people have the right to do these things without suffering racial or religious abuse?
Last time they came, the EDL planned on marching down Manchester Road before holding a rally. The idea was to maximise the provocation of local people which was why I and thousands of Bradfordians supported the Bradford Together petition that persuaded the Home Office to ban the march.
On this occasion we have also tried to secure a ban. Unfortunately, we have been unsuccessful because the EDL have only requested a static demonstration and it appears this cannot legally be banned. Certainly, the Police and Council have no legal powers to ban the demonstration.
They will be holding their “protest”, so how should Bradford respond?
To reiterate, the EDL want a reaction. If they can provoke a disturbance or, heaven forbid, violent reaction, they will regard it as a job well done, in their warped mentality it will constitute a victory and vindication of their methods. They thrive on noisy confrontations, anything that raises the temperature and the higher the better. This was clear last time they came when they spent half the time attacking each other, and half attacking the police.
So we can’t risk falling into their trap.
Counter-protests necessarily run the risk of raising the temperature and, with the best will in the world, nobody can claim they can always keep full control when passions become inflamed.
The best response that Bradford can give is one that is dignified and peaceful.
We should turn the threat into an opportunity to show that Bradford is big enough and grown up enough to see through their tactics, reject their divisive message and celebrate the vibrancy, creativity and dynamism of our city.
That’s why myself and the Council are supporting the Bradford Together initiative.
Bradford Together are talking to thousands of Bradfordians from all backgrounds, challenging the racism and Islamophobia of the EDL in a measured, sensitive way. The culmination of their work will be a celebration of Bradford in Centenary Square on Friday. This is a positive, family-friendly event seeking to show Bradford at its best. It is our chance to make clear that the racists are out of step with most people and we will not be fooled by them into dragging the name of our City down.
As Deputy Leader of the Council I would like to invite everybody to this celebration and appeal to everyone to keep calm on Saturday.