journeys at home and abroad
Brrrr – cold in Harrow this afternoon. I spotted the new mosque (scaffolding still around the minaret) at about the same time as I noticed huge numbers of police in hi-visibility jackets, others on horseback and about 30 police vans surrounding the bleak carpark on the opposite side of the road.
It was harder to spot the demonstrators. I counted about 13 of them, just enough to hold up a long banner STOP ISLAMISATION OF EUROPE. They were surrounded by police and one man seemed to be speaking to them via a megaphone.
Happily I bumped into a few friends from Three Faiths Forum and the London Jewish Forum amongst the 200+ counter-demonstrators. I heard Harrow Central Mosque say that SIOE had been invited to the Mosque to discuss their concerns, but that they had declined. Canon Giles Fraser (Church of England) had earlier joined people from other faith traditions, the British Humanist Association and local political leaders to emphasise the importance of protecting freedom of worship.
SOIE had encouraged Belgians, Serbs, Papua New Guineans and others to display their flags. I saw none of these (SIOE was banned from demonstrating in Brussels on the 9/11 anniversary this year).
Demonstrators were also urged to refrain from ‘racist chants’ and ‘nazi salutes’ – ‘remarks such as “deport all Muslims” will NOT be permitted’. These guidelines rather give the game away as to what SIOE is all about. They appear to be trying to form a Europe-wide network.
Just as well that those who value freedom of expression and worship and who promote an equitable way of living in Europe are also pretty good at networking.
How we live well together, in spite of our differences, is bound to be the topic of a public conversation for some time. We need to find ways of approaching it in ways that reduce anxiety and enrich our understanding.