x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

London protests prompt violence alert

Rival groups are set for a showdown in Britain after one group has called for Sharia to be introduced in the UK.

LONDON // Police in London fear widespread violence in the heart of the city Saturday when a group of militant Muslims stage a demonstration calling for Sharia to be introduced in Britain. Though the march, from the Houses of Parliament to Trafalgar Square, is expected to attract only 100 or so supporters, it has spawned plans for a counter-demonstration by a right-wing group made up largely of football hooligans.

The rival demonstrations are expected to meet in Trafalgar Square where at least two other protests being organised by moderate Muslims, who are opposed to both sets of extremists. Plans for the Sharia march have been made by a group calling itself Islam4UK, led by Anjem Choudary, a former lawyer and previous leader of two extremist groups in the UK, which the government outlawed. Both the leading Islamic groupings in Britain - the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and the Islamic Society of Britain - have condemned the march, saying it will only foster Islamophobia.

Since news of the Sharia march was published last week, Casuals United, a far-right group with links to the anti-Islam English Defence League, have said that its "lads" will meet the marchers in Trafalgar Square. Philip Davies, a Conservative MP, is now calling on Mr Choudary to cancel his demonstration. "These marchers are inciting racial tensions by what they are doing. For that reason alone it is not wise for a march to take place," he said.

Patrick Mercer, another Conservative MP and ex-army officer, told the Daily Express: "It is extremely distasteful and is stoking the fires of fear within the British public. If anyone thinks that those views are a step forward in society they are seriously deluded." However, Mr Choudary, who has called on the Queen to convert to Islam and who has applauded the deaths of British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, remains determined to press ahead.

Forecasting that up to 1,000 Muslims could attend the march, he said: "There is a large proportion of society who are ignorant of Islam and Sharia. This march will be a good vehicle to engage the public." However, Muhammad Abdul Bari, general secretary of the MCB, said that it was "very well known that these extremist groups are a handful of people and do not represent the views of the mainstream Muslim public".

He criticised some British newspapers for headlines that suggested that mainstream opinion among the UK's two million Muslims was in favour of the implementation of Islamic law. "This is very irresponsible as it is bound to create further tension. It risks fuelling Islamophobia, which has resulted in increased attacks on British Muslims and their institutions and properties" Mr Abdul Bari added. Meanwhile, Inayat Bunglawala, a member of MCB's executive council, has applied to the Metropolitan Police for permission to organise his own demonstration of moderates opposed to both Mr Choudary and Casuals United.

And yesterday the British Muslims for Secular Democracy (BMSD) was to announce their own plans for a similar protest Saturday. Shaaz Mahboob, the group's founder, explained: "Our counter-demonstration is based on our belief in, and commitment to, those liberal values that define the British state, including legal and constitutional equality for all, equal rights for women and minorities, and religious freedom, including the right to be free of faith.

"We are turning out to defend all of these virtues of a secular democracy that Islam4UK so despises and daydream of taking away from the British public." According to the Islam4UK website, the organisation wants "all Muslims in the United Kingdom ... to join us and collectively declare that as submitters to Almighty Allah, we have had enough of democracy and man-made law and the depravity of the British culture".

The statement continues: "On this day we will call for a complete upheaval of the British ruling system, its members and legislature, and demand the full implementation of sharia in Britain." In response, the far-right Casuals United has now posted on its website plans for its counter-demonstration to "Jihadist and dole scrounging mentalist Anjem Choudary". The organisation, whose members recently confronted anti-fascist protesters in a march through Manchester, said: "A counter protest is planned in Trafalgar Square by our Casuals United Southern Divisions and the Leeds protest that same day is still on, as we won't allow the enemy to dictate to us where we go. We have plenty of London supporters to give him a welcome.

"I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Choudary for telling the people exactly why the defence leagues [in England, Scotland and Wales] are needed, and for getting us a massive boost in support." A police spokesman would not comment on arrangements to marshal the rival demonstrations and would only say they would be policed "appropriately". dsapsted@thenational.ae