For something that’s being heralded as a unifying event in Tower Hamlets, today’s “anti-fascist” march from Stepney to Altab Ali park near Brick Lane does seem to be creating a fair degree of division. Several senior political figures have now privately complained that the protest is actually little more than an exercise in fascist-style emotional blackmail: that if you don’t march, you’re not with us.
Part of the problem, they say, is that what seemed to be a wholly noble initiative is being sullied by a series of press releases from Respect that want to whip things up to boost their directly elected mayor campaign. Respect has always been good at this: they spot someone else’s initiative then shout loudly to try and try to mark it with their own brand. Of course, this is how politics works, but in this particular case their rhetoric has somewhat spoiled things.
The idea for the march came as a direct result of an Islamic conference at The Troxy that was eventually called off, directly because of grass roots pressure. It was called off for one main reason: because it was to feature two controversial Islamic clerics who are banned in other countries. When the English Defence League got wind of this, they threatened to turn up, en masse, in their usual charming way and thus attract a crowd from Unite Against Fascism.
Watching all this was Glyn Robbins, a former chair of Tower Hamlets Respect. Glyn has been in political retirement for a few years now, ever since, in fact, he fell out with George Galloway and his team over the direction the party was heading. That direction was headlong into a split.
Among other issues, Glyn was concerned about the influence of the Islamic Forum of Europe within the party he had helped build up. The split demoralised Glyn, who is a born and bred East Ender with deeply held socialist beliefs. The unpleasant briefings against him from Galloway’s circle didn’t exactly help.
But when he saw that the EDL wanted to target Tower Hamlets, the activist instincts spurred him once more. He spoke to various faith leaders and set up a new group called United East End, which he hopes will nip racist feeling in the bud.
However, he knows the problems in Tower Hamlets are neither one-way nor black and white. As well as attacking the EDL in his speech this afternoon, he will also rail against the homophobia and hate peddled by Islamofascists—the kind of bile espoused by those who would have attended The Troxy, in fact.
Contrast this with Respect. They say everything is the Labour run council’s fault. By putting pressure on the Troxy management to cancel the conference, Respect says Labour has emboldened the EDL.
They then go further: they say the real reason why the EDL is targeting Tower Hamlets is the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary that contained allegations about party bigwig Abjol Miah and the activities of the IFE. The IFE have been involved in drumming up support for tomorrow’s march and they’re the reason why many sane people, including Jim Fitzpatrick and Ansar Ahmed Ullah are declining to take part.
Now, I may be living in cloud cuckoo land, but it is Bow. And I just don’t hear anyone saying that the EDL would be welcome in any guise. Wouldn’t they be here by now if so?
Abjol, of course, wants to be mayor. You can’t help but wonder whether it suits the like of Respect, Abjol and the IFE to stir this up. Glyn, who recognised much of what was in the Dispatches documentary (but disagreed with more), I know, is aware of that danger.