As the old, far-right warriors such as the British National Party (BNP) and the English Defence League (EDL) appear to be losing some steam in recent times, their new incarnation, a relatively new group (Britain First), is now flexing its muscles and baring its teeth at Britain’s minority Muslim community. It is a tiny group, but violent and it seems bigger than it is because of its large social media presence.
Its members have recently started targeting mosques across the country. With their own film crew, they are producing short videos of their “conquests” and posting them on social media platforms to create maximum impact.
The first of their stunts was in Bradford city in May. Their members, some wearing uniforms, staged protests at 10 places of worship in the city centre and handed out Bibles outside the mosques. A statement on the Britain First Facebook page said: “This is the first of many such operations that are due to be launched across Yorkshire against Islam. The Yorkshire brigade is finally here and has ‘blooded’ itself in the most heavily Muslim town in Yorkshire.”
Their most recent invasion was at the heart of the British Muslim community in the East End of London – the East London Mosque (ELM), Britain’s largest and London’s oldest mosque (established in 1910). On May 19 at midday, four uniformed members of Britain First entered the mosque after leaving their car in a no-parking area, ignored a sign requesting people to take off their shoes and walked across the carpeted lobby area where people pray, handing out leaflets and a Bible to the receptionist. The ELM were calm and dealt with these “invaders” with professionalism, dignity, and announced swiftly on social media that the “invasion” was a failure.
For the thousands among the congregation, Britain First’s behaviour was nothing but ridiculous – the ELM has been working with other faith groups including Christians almost daily. With a synagogue next door and excellent relations with all the inter-faith groups, the East London Mosque has a unique place in London’s East End. Britain First’s previous visit, as part of their misnamed “Christian Patrol”, and the recent “invasion” provided nothing but a distraction and irritation.
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Britain First emerged in November 2011 organised by some BNP-linked activists to protect “British and Christian morality”, but their blatant desecration of a prayer place with their boots goes totally against Christian teachings. They demonise the entire Muslim community for the perverted Rochdale sex trafficking gang and public murder of soldier Lee Rigby. Lee Rigby’s mother has accused the far-right group of cashing in on people’s misery.
Mosques, like prayer places of any faith community, are non-political; most mosques are at the forefront of addressing social issues and the spiritual void in our increasingly commercialised society. Many hold open days for new visitors who are given guided tours and have their own religious etiquette.
If Britain First’s main aim is to provoke Muslim youth, then they are mistaken; the overwhelming majority of young Muslims (apart from tiny self-serving fringe elements, like ex-Muhajiroun) cannot be baited.. The British Muslim youth carried themselves impeccably during the 2011 England riots, where looting, and mayhem in London subsequently brought some inner cities to a standstill.
However, with increasing haughtiness, Britain First appears to be a nuisance at some mosques but also a pain in the neck for our police forces. They may be a bunch of dangerous jokers who could, and would probably like to, set off a chain reaction of backlash and counter-backlash. We all need to watch out.
Mosques are open places of worship where anybody and everybody is welcome. Britain First’s undue presence has the potential to disturb peace in the mosques that are not used to, nor have sufficient funding, to employ extra staff to handle them; creating a security ghetto is against the whole purpose of a place of prayer.
The Muslim community and anti-fascist groups are waiting to see how our political leaders and media columnists respond to this new menace. Some of them do not waste time in demonising all Muslims for the actions of the very few.
Muhammad Abdul Bari was the former Secretary General of Muslim Council of Britain (2006-10).
Follow him on Twitter: @MAbdulBari