Groups opposed to Islamist extremism in the U.K. plan more protests with special emphasis paid to a sharia court operating at Harrow central mosque and in Luton, home to ‘some of the most unsavoury al-Qaida supporters in the U.K.”
‘Patriot’ league plots more clashes with anti-fascist activists
• Thirty-five arrests after city-centre confrontation
• Group claims it is opposed to Islamist extremism
Groups that say they are opposed to Islamist extremism are plotting fresh clashes with anti-fascist organisations this summer after violent battles between the two sides in Birmingham city centre led to 35 arrests over the weekend.
The English Defence League and Casuals United, two linked groups, are planning protests against what they see as militant Islam in Manchester, Luton, Harrow and other as yet secret locations, according to a website.
The move comes after their supporters fought battles with Asian men backed by Unite Against Fascism activists in front of shocked shoppers at the Bull Ring shopping centre.
In ugly scenes that began after the groups assembled at about 5pm on Saturday, wooden planks, bottles and placards were thrown, and groups kicked and stamped on victims on the ground while men engaged in fights.
“It was chaos,” said Hannah Taylor, 24, from London. “I had only come up to do a bit of shopping, and found myself in the middle of a full-blown riot. People with small children were running into shops for cover. The whole city centre just descended into some kind of war zone.”
Three people were injured and there were several reports of property damage, including to a car.
The conflicts began after backers of the English Defence League, which describes itself as “a mixed race group of English people, from businessmen and women, to football hooligans”, gathered outside Waterstone’s bookshop in a planned demonstration against militant Islam.
Unite Against Fascism mounted a counter demonstration, telling its supporters that “everyone in the area should come along and show these thugs that their brand of vicious racism is not wanted in Birmingham or the West Midlands”. Scores of police officers hemmed in the chanting protest group, which denies it is racist. There were violent skirmishes around the fringes of the demonstration.
The website of Casuals United yesterday used photographs of a man being kicked and stamped on the ground by Asian men as a recruiting aid for fresh protests. “Next time will be bigger now, thanks to the photos of the disgusting attacks on British people trying to speak up against extremists and their supporters,” it warned. “We will arrive unannounced and neither the police or the scum will know any details.”
Over the August bank holiday weekend, the group is planning a protest against a sharia court at Harrow central mosque and in Luton, which it claims is “home of some of the most unsavoury al-Qaida supporters in the UK”. Manchester city centre will be a target in early October, it says.
West Midlands police said that to prevent a repeat of Saturday’s disturbances, it would consider injunctions stopping potential troublemakers going to Birmingham and the surrounding area.
The threat of further trouble came as the government announced plans to reshape its policy towards the Muslim community in Britain, partly by pledging to tackle far-right extremism as well as Islamist extremism. Revised guidance is to be drawn up this summer on the operation of the £45m Prevent strategy, which is designed to challenge violent extremist ideology and disrupt those who promote it.
The fresh approach is expected to ensure that funding goes to a wider range of organisations, and a more explicit strategy to resist white racist extremism is also being developed.
“You speak to any Muslim on the street anywhere in this country and they will say they are as opposed as you and I are to extremism, to terrorism, but the frustration is that they are constantly linked with terrorism as a community as a whole,” said Shahid Malik, the Dewsbury MP and minister for cohesion. “We cannot dismiss or underestimate the threat from the far right. There are white areas which are severely neglected. What we want to do is engage in those white communities to make sure that they are listened to, they feel they are respected.”
Khalid Mahmood, the Labour MP for Perry Barr, Birmingham, said yesterday that tensions between the rival groups needed to be taken more seriously. “I think the groups ought to know better, and certainly if there was going to be rallies by both these groups at the same time it would always lead to this sort of confrontation. My issue is not just that it took place, but that it took place in the city centre, where families and children were just going about their normal lives. To put that at risk is terrible.”
Chief Inspector Mark Payne, of West Midlands police, described Birmingham’s city centre as one that remained “a safe place to live, shop and visit”.