By Tower Hamlets standards last night’s council meeting was largely a positive affair! At one stage it even looked like there might be an outbreak of unity about the success of our campaign to stop the EDL. Cross party unity was essential to that campaign and it is right that all members should feel proud of our collective efforts.
In the subsequent discussions however important differences did emerge.
Cllr Kabir Ahmed quite rightly raised concerns about the local Labour group’s calls for a blanket ban on static demos.
Of course my administration supports all measures that will protect our borough from the threat of the EDL. However, as Kabir pointed out, we need to be careful with the exact demands we make to this end.
Any calls for a ban on static demos should specify that the ban be applicable only to those protests or events that could incite hate crimes. Any calls for new banning powers that do not differentiate between static demonstrations could have the unintended consequence of curtailing civil liberties and freedom of expression.
I was not surprised that the Tories were enthusiastic supporters of Labour’s proposal last night; with the full impact of the cuts yet to be felt, they know only too well there will be many more protests on our streets against them from trade unionists, pensioners, students and anti-cuts campaigners. It would be a bad day for democracy in this country if legislation intended to be used against violent, racist thugs is also used against anti-cuts groups.
It was a shame therefore that the Labour group sided with the Tories, (as they did on all issues through out the meeting), to vote down our amendment which specified that any ban on static demos apply only to those types of protests that might incite hate crimes.
The other issue which caused debate was the culpability of local politicians in fanning the very Islamaphobia that’s put wind in the sails of the EDL.
Unfortunately, it is simply a fact in Tower Hamlets that in their factional furies some politicians have sunk into the gutter.
Lies and smears about organisations and individuals in the borough promoting extremist Islamic agendas have abounded.
It’s a dangerous game in which only the racists can win.
Two organisations most in the firing line of Islamaphobic attack have been the London Muslim Centre (LMC) and the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE).
It was disappointing therefore, that Labour group leader Cllr Josh Peck could not find it within himself to join with the police and faith leaders to congratulate both the IFE and LMC for the role they played in keeping the peace on Sept 3.
He explained his refusal by saying there were many organisations who helped ensure Sept 3 was a success, which all deserve our gratitude.
This is true, and I have thanked them all publicly and privately.
However, not every organisation was specifically targeted by the EDL in the way the LMC and IFE were; it was not accidental the EDL wanted to make the LMC the focus of their march.
Imagine if I refused to join with the police and faith leaders to offer my solidarity to a specific church or synagogue, or Christian or Jewish organisation, under attack from racists and fascists?
There would quite rightly be outrage.
It is disappointing that Cllr Peck could not make such a basic gesture of solidarity with two organisations subject to sustained Islamaphobic assault.
Perhaps if he had attended the meeting in the LMC the night before the EDL’s planned visit, at which over 350 stewards attended, or perhaps if he had been out on the streets of the borough through out the day of their visit, he would have had a greater appreciation of their specific contribution.
Never mind. All in all, it was a positive meeting…