People in Wootton Bassett, the town famous for honouring dead British soldiers returning from Afghanistan, reacted defiantly on Saturday to news that a controversial Islamic group is to march through its streets.
Islam4UK – which calls itself a “platform” for extremist movement al-Muhajiroun – plans to parade through the Wiltshire town in the coming weeks.
The group’s website says the event is being held “not in memory of the occupying and merciless British military” but of the Muslims its says have been “murdered in the name of democracy and freedom”.
Leader Anjem Choudary said the protest, involving 500 people, would be peaceful one, with “symbolic coffins” being carried to honour Muslim victims of the conflict. He said he also planned to write to the parents of dead UK soldiers with his version of “the reality of what they died for”.
But the walk will not coincide with the return of a dead soldier’s body, added Mr Choudary, 42, a former lawyer from East London.
Hundreds of people line the market town’s High Street every week to watch servicemen’s bodies being driven through from RAF Lyneham.
Family and friends of the fallen, shopkeepers and British Legion members wait in all weathers to pay silent tribute to a cortege of Union flag-draped coffins.
Ex-mayor and councillor Chris Wannell said: “We don’t do what we do at Wootton Bassett for any political reason at all, but to pay our respects to those who have given their lives for our freedom.
“We are a Christian country and a traditional old English market town who honour very much our Queen and country. We obey the law and pay respects to our servicemen who protect our freedom.
“If this man has any decency about him he will not hold a march through Wootton Bassett.”
He also called on the media not to give the group any attention.
North Wiltshire MP James Gray said: “I’ve seen in the past assorted groups threaten to march, but they don’t actually do it. I wouldn’t think they’d get permission from the police.
“The people of Wootton Bassett are not interested in politics. They will say, these are foolish people making a silly point – we’ll get on with our ordinary lives thank you.
“This also misunderstands the nature of what the people of Wootton Bassett do. They are not bloodthirstily in favour of the war. Most people would say they were not qualified to comment on the rightness or wrongness.
“The people of Wootton Bassett are decent, quiet, pragmatic people and they’ll stay at home instead (of reacting to the march).”
Islam4UK describes the plans for the “momentous march” on its website.
It says: “Wootton Bassett, is currently famous for its public mourning processions held in memory of British soldiers killed whilst on military service in Afghanistan; coffins containing the dismembered bodies of these soldiers are usually draped in Union jack flags and driven through the town centre from RAF Lyneham, as a tribute to their ‘sacrifice’.
“The proposed march by members of Islam4UK is however of a very different venture, held not in memory of the occupying and merciless British military, but rather the real war dead who have been shunned by the Western media and general public as they were and continue to be horrifically murdered in the name of Democracy and Freedom – the innocent Muslim men, women and children.
“It is quite extraordinary, that with well over 100,000 Muslims killed in Afghanistan in the last 8 years that those military serviceman who have directly or indirectly contributed to their death are paraded as war heroes and moreover honoured for what is ultimately genocide.
“We at Islam4UK find this totally unacceptable and as a result have decided to launch the ‘Wootton Bassett March’ to highlight the real casualties of this brutal Crusade.”
Mr Choudary added: “The British public is blissfully unaware of what’s being done in their name. More than 10,000 innocent men women and children are being slaughtered.
“You may see one or two coffins being returned to the UK every other day but when you think about the people of Afghanistan it’s a huge number (being killed) in comparison.
“I intend to write a letter to the parents of British soldiers telling them the reality of what they died for.”
The march will call for the withdrawal of British troops who Mr Choudary believes are largely in Afghanistan to “prevent the rise of Islam in the area.”
He added that some families of the dead soldiers had even offered him their support.