Should EDL have been permitted to march where Moseley's Blackshirts marched? 
Last Saturday saw the EDL march over the River past the Tower, past its Traitor's Gate and then around the bankers' palaces of EC3, up to a stand-off with police outside Aldgate East Tube station, only to find the latter closed with no services stopping there (much like the routine experience of a multitude of London's commuters faced with the wrong kind of snow - perhaps they were the wrong kind of demonstrator for London' flaunted diverse demographics). This was to be the EDL's biggest march ever ... it totalled 500 to 600 overweight wannabe-patriots in need of some exercise. There was every reason to expect trouble, so soon and so close to the outrageous murder of Lee Rigby, and provoked by a succession of foul activities by a handful of hothead Muslims in the East London Mosque's neighbourhood.

Should the march have been permitted? In hindsight the answer may have been a resounding 'No' if the police lines had not held and street violence ensued - instead the whole affair served to show that the EDL's weight of support lies in its grossed up Body Mass Index rather than its collective IQ. The stock answer from the Muslims in the local community, and from the local community as a whole should certainly have been 'No' - they are the ones whose lives and property were put under threat and whose weekend was disrupted, and they are the ones who will bear the cost of the massive police presence at a time when local poverty causes them to bear the brunt of the government's swingeing cuts in vital services.

The stock answer from the Muslim establishment is also an unsurprising 'No'. But with the sagacity of hindsight, now that the EDL are safely back in their bars, my answer is definitely 'Yes', notwithstanding their associates' propensity for arson, one of the most lethally dangerous of civil crimes (and which should not be distinguished from terrorism, since that is very often its intent). Yes, because ironically the EDL chose to march in an area that is iconic for its stand off against Moseley's Blackshirts in 1936, thus indelibly associating themselves with the one unquestionably fascist movement that Britain has spawned, and also with the moment of its popular defeat.

You could almost superimpose pictures of the EDL on top of pictures of the BUF, even though it was difficult to see the ranks of redneck beerguts and rippling tattoos, because the view was obstructed by three lines deep of police hemming them in. You certainly couldn't have called it a march of progress since the European fascist movements of the 30s. And you could certainly draw parallels between the normalisation of anti-Jewish caricatures and scaremongering, and the equivalent scaremongering of today's weak political parties grasping at cheap populist jibes against Muslims. If you do, you have good reason to be fearful for democracy, freedom of expression and freedom from the autocratic instruments of state control.

Furthermore, by choosing to march, the EDL foisted upon the public their wish to indulge themselves in the public purse for a substantial bill of police overtime at a time when their own childrens' health services and schools are in desperate straits. (It would be valuable for the cost of the policing to be published.) That's not an argument against them marching, it's an argument that says to society that to have organisations such as the EDL at large carries a high price, economic and social. By demonstrating in such a sensitive area, EDL demonstrates that they are such as don't care for the people they claim to represent.

There is another, more subtle reason why they should have been allowed to march, if only as far as the tube station. The EDL seeks to map their protests and campaigns explicitly to the Muslim communities. It believes that it can draw on popular anger with some Muslims' behaviour, the stupidity of young Muslim 'activists' hassling people on the street over their manner of dress or sexuality, the snide conceits about parts of Tower Hamlets being a 'Muslim area', and the revolting murder of Lee Rigby. In this respect the EDL is right, it can garner support from popular anger. It most certainly will do for as long as the Muslim community's own response is inept. In turn, the Muslim community's response will remain inept for as long as it fails to get a hold on, respectively, the arrogant young men that claim the right to enforce fragments of a nursery school level of interpretation of Islamic conduct, the self-centred way in which after dominating the area, the local Bangladeshi Muslim community treats others, including other Muslims, as invisible (more on this below). The wider community is right to be angry that the Muslim community was given two young, impressionable converts to Islam, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Oluwatobi Adebowale, Nigerians by birth, and discarded them to be dropped into an extremist pit, from which they emerged to be accused of the murder Lee Rigby. For reasons I will attempt to explore in depth later, these two found nothing and no one to welcome them into the mainstream of the Muslim community, just the racism, sectarianism and insularity of a community that puts its selfish interests first, and the welfare of a pair of converts to the religion from an alien culture and alien community, very much last.

So if the public perception is that the EDL have a point, and that it really is a counterpoint to the Muslim community's interests, then the public will equate banning the former with rolling back on the latter. The Muslim community fosters within it many enclaves of hate-speech and exclusivity. Beware of what you ask for when you ask to ban the EDL.

To my mind however, allowing the EDL to march is allowing them to stand in their own stocks and pillories, open to ridicule by the whole world.

Now back to that comment about the local Bangladeshi Muslim community treating others as invisible. Many times when I have walked down Whitechapel Road, every bit the archetype Muslim with imamah, beard, white qamees and sirwaal, I have naively expected every step of the way to be punctuated with salaams with everyone I pass. Instead, and disconcertingly, every single pious-looking old man in cotton cap, stringy beard and kurta walks straight past me without a murmur or even a flicker of eye contact. It's not about being Muslim, it's about me not being Sylheti. In their eyes, I don't belong, any more than the next non-Sylheti. The corollary of this is in south London, where in the same day, I am served with deferential apologies for queue-jumping by an Asian Muslim man, yet I don't understand a word of his Punjabi; and again I am accosted by a man outside his newly opened corner shop, again in Punjabi that is unintelligible to me, but whose body language tells me to come and browse his new shop. The conceited assumption that allows these two both to assume that I as a visible Muslim will inevitably understand their sub-continental dialects, is as offensively racist as the Bangladeshis' collective tribal separatism in Tower Hamlets and in its own way as racist as the Chav bawling anti-Muslim abuse from the window of his mate's white van. Pursuing this theme of the same implied racism: the main, UK-based 'mainstream' Bareilvi and Deobandi imam-training institutions use Urdu as the teaching medium for religious subjects; the majority of masjids render their Friday 'wyaaz', speeches, in Punjabi, Urdu, Sylheti or Bangla (not the Khutbah itself, which has strict rules about its content and presentation in Qur'anic Arabic). Most of those who include English, do so with cringingly poor knowledge of the language. Together these make up an attitude towards the indigenous culture that is high-handed and dismissive, essentially racist in its assumption that the indigenous community has little relevance to them.

Thus Muslim readers, you have a taste of the deep unease felt by many non-Muslims in neighbourhoods where Muslims and Muslim tribes high-handedly assume they have no social obligations to anyone but their own. None of that attitude chimes with EDL asserting that Tower Hamlets is "subject to sharia law", but it has everything to do with degradation of the community to the point where "Muslim patrols" act as "vigilantes implementing Islam upon your own necks". It also has a lot to do with why two Muslim converts both named Michael, never had a snowball's chance of settling into the mainstream of Islam.


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Why one in every five UK Muslim families uses this website. 
In 2013 it is now eight years since the website was launched in the summer of 2006. In Ramadhaan of 2013 the site had 165,000 visitors at the start of the fast and 165,000 again at the end of the fasting month, an astonishing performance. While many of you will have come back repeatedly to the directory, it would not be unreasonable to claim that one in ten of all UK Muslims use the site, or one in every five Muslim families. (As a professional statistician among other things, I am well aware that you can cut these numbers in lots of ways, but the gross numbers are still impressive and form an uninterrupted linear increase every year, with bigger peaks every year at Ramadhaan and the Eids.)

I get a steady stream of emails to the website, mostly around the masjid directory and its Google Maps feature, variously submitting corrections, asking for more information or assistance of one kind or another, so I have started this blog, the MiB-blog, as a place in which I can respond to these requests publicly, passing on requests to the community, or explaining the directory's rationale. But most importantly for me, it provides a place where I can remind everyone what I set out to achieve on the website as a whole. There are many things wrong with the Muslim community in Britain, and especially with its mosques, its masjids. I wrote the Muslims In Britain Guide in 2005 to help make the community, warts and all, more understandable to outsiders. I have written and spoken extensively about extremism, militancy and disaffected youth, and some of this work is published on the website too. Even though my work in these areas has been going on for three decades, in almost every masjid I still see exactly the same complacency and inability to engage as I discovered when I myself first came into Islam, way back in 1982.

Meanwhile the consequences of the failings of our masjids, their imams and especially their managements, continues to be the main factor driving away Muslims on the edge of the community, driving them away into militancy, violence and disaster after disaster, the consequnces of which we all have to endure. How many masjids in the UK feature an indigenous imam or management committee member? Basically none whatsoever. How many incidents of 'terrorist' violence or its threat in the UK have featured a convert Muslim? Almost every single one. Every mosque in the UK rightly claims after every such incident, "we knew nothing of this, they took no part in our mosque", yet what kind of excuse is that? Who else has also been so ignored, so overlooked that you still no nothing of it?

The principles of Islam are so simple, so easy to explain, that even the least educated Muslim family can tell you of how they have shared their knowledge with their non-Muslim neighbours. Yet when you come across Muslims who choose a different masjid to you because they disagree with the imam or the practices of the masjid you prefer, have you ever tried to get a clear, sensible explanation from a Muslim scholar? How is it that no imam, no Muslim scholar, is able explain to his own congregation and to newcomers as well, what other Muslims believe, without descending into acrimonious bile? Do they seriously expect us to trust them (never mind respect them) when they claim that intelligent Muslims in rival masjids openly practice obvious polytheism, or have the canon of Islam so fundamentally wrong that they manifestly disbelieve in the contents of the Qur'an?

The website has continually sought to challenge the masjids, their imams and their managements on these issues. It highlights the absurdity of masjids denying their own sectaranism and communalism while slandering that of others. By emphasising the extent to which this happens, by quantifying it and showing it graphically, we seek to force the problem out into the open. We demand that Muslims, imams, masjid managements, advocates of factions, all cease their shameful exclusivity and learn to speak of each other with mutual respect, discover tolerance of differences (the very same attribute that you demand wider society grants towards you!), and make space for each other and each others' practices inside your masjids. Islam is not denominational, but you have made it thus for all to see, and then you have the insolence to claim that you are not sectarian, that "everyone is welcome in our mosque". Yes, everyone is welcome, just so long as they sit on their hands and stay silent and do nothing except what you permit in 'your' masjid.

Unlike other websites and directories, several of which have sprung up recently with copies of data, does not exist to promote its author's professional business or advertising space, even less to earn money from the service. Nor has it any interest in currying favour with masjids and their managements, we will remain vigorously independent and report what we see and what we are told in good faith by masjid users in preference to what masjid managements want us to say, and yes, among that will be unpleasant criticism: respect where it is due, but we do not submit to complacency, especially not the sort of complacency that is disguised as deferential ettiquette. The stakes are too high, many lives have been lost and others ruined by long prison sentences, and in every case there are masjid managers, imams and advocates of factions who could have stepped in instead of freezing out, long before any legal boundary had been crossed by the dissenters. It is true that very few Muslims are capable of tackling extremism effectively, but everyone can work to create a healthier environment so that you don't need to get to the point of freezing them out. Insha Allah this blog will supplement the main MiB website by highlighting examples of good and bad practice, with the aim of educating its users so that you can go back to your local masjids and suggest to them how they could do things better. It is your masjid, your community and your own future at stake.


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