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Sabria Jawhar

Sabria Jawhar

Posted: September 10, 2009 06:44 PM

Political Hooliganism is Now Part of the Democratic Process


In case anybody hasn't noticed, hooliganism is now part of the fabric of democracy.

An incident occurred last week in Birmingham, England, that gained little notice outside the UK but sent shockwaves through some British communities. Dozens of people were arrested last weekend following a protest by followers of the English Defence League against the implementation against Sharia in the United Kingdom.

The reality is the protest against Sharia was nothing more than an anti-Islamic grievance beer party that started at a neighborhood pub and ended violently when a group of Muslims confronted the protesters. Rocks, sticks and punches were thrown with the police blaming both the EDL and Muslims youths for the ruckus.

Lost in all the haze is the fact that most Muslims, British-born or not, have given little thought about whether Sharia belongs in the UK. The tiff in Birmingham was a result of the young Muslims recognizing the protest for what it was: a movement against the Muslim community, and not because Sharia was supplanting British law.

How is this political hooliganism?

While British MPs are dithering over expense accounts, the fringe elements outside the political process have become mainstream. Last June, the British National Party garnered more than 6 percent of the vote in European elections, including two seats in the Brussels parliament. Not only does the BNP have a voice in government, but it has its militia in the streets.

While the Liberal Democrats and Tories think it's fine to engage the BNP in debate, they are making the mistake in believing that logic and common sense will prevail in the political arena. They are faced with such organizations as the Stop Islamification of Europe (SIOE) that argues that "Islamophobia is the height of common sense." Just how do the Liberal Democrats and Tories think they are going to win the war of words with that kind of rationale?

I must admit, though, the Labour Party's policy of ignoring the BNP is probably more ridiculous. Doing nothing in the face of seething unrest among some British citizens who see merit in the BNP and EDL is a recipe for disaster.

The problem lies in the unchecked behavior of the BNP, EDL, SIOE and their followers. Political debate legitimizes fringe groups. It allows these groups to obscure racism and xenophobia with phony arguments of UK border security while the real work is performed in the street. Few people are going to pay attention to Liberal Democrats arguing border security with the BNP when hooligans know the best arguments are made with BBC footage of Britons "defending" the streets of Birmingham with their fists.

This Friday, the anniversary of 9/11, anti-Islamic protests are scheduled to be held by the SIOE at the new Harrow central mosque in London. Muslim supporters, calling themselves Unite Against Fascism, also plan to be there. The mosque is not finished, but Friday prayers will be conducted next door in the middle of Ramadan, Islam's holiest month. Imagine, if you will, the specter of a massive demonstration with the threat of violence outside a London church during Christmas Day services. Same thing. In this case, Muslims are faced with the threat of violence during a period of fasting and prayer.

Ghulam Rabbani, the general secretary of the Harrow mosque, told The Times of London last week that he doesn't know why protesters picked his mosque.

"We don't know why they are singling us out. They say we are planning a Sharia court but we have never had such a plan. This community is mixed with Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Jews. We have had very good relations for 25 years."

Members of the BNP, SIOE and EDL have the right to freely express their views in a peaceful manner. But let's not forget that by embracing their legitimacy in the political process, we are also legitimizing their followers in the street. It's not about Sharia because its implementation in the UK doesn't exist. The Sharia argument is a smokescreen for the true anti-immigrant agenda.

The irony is that this Friday's scheduled protest is planned by extremists: SIOE and the Unite Against Fascism group. In the middle are the Harrow Muslims who just want everybody to go away.