“Muslims not to vote” leaflets urging in UK
Opposing sides from Britain’s extremist fringes have been kept apart by police amid tense scenes as thousands of Muslims emerged from one of Britain’s largest mosques after Friday prayers. Passersby and tourists had watched with bemusement and alarm earlier on Friday as dozens of supporters of Britain First – a nationalist group that has been seeking to displace the British National party (BNP) as the standard bearer of the UK far right – marched through central London brandishing large St George and union flags.
They and a smaller group from the English Defence League (EDL) were hemmed in behind police barricades at the London Central mosque in St John’s Wood, shouting at crowds of Muslim men, women and children leaving the prayer hall. There were chaotic scenes outside the mosque as some worshippers from the Central mosque themselves challenged the presence of a radical Muslim activist, Anjem Choudary, who was using a microphone to address the crowds. Several Muslims accused Choudary and his followers of in effect being with the far right protesters.
While a police operation ensured that Britain First and the EDL were kept apart from those coming out of the mosque, there were minor scuffles later away from the entrance on Park Road. In one incident, officers intervened to separate young Muslim men and a group of EDL supporters, including one placard-carrying man who was dressed in a burqa. Followers of Choudary, who is linked to a number of Britons who have traveled to join Islamic State in Syria and who has claimed to reporters that he would leave the UK to live in Isis-controlled territory if authorities returned his passport, handed out leaflets urging Muslims not to vote, which they claimed was against Islamic values.
Among those taking part in heated conversations with Choudary’s followers was Ahmed Dogan, an architect originally from Turkey, who said: “It’s completely the wrong message that they are putting out. “It’s also incredible that they – both them and the ones of the other side of the street – are doing this on this Friday. It’s important to us, Christians and Jews. We should be together on a day like this.” Mohamed Drali, a young Egyptian immigrant, shrugged his shoulders as he gazed across the street at Britain First and a smaller group of EDL supporters, one of whom was wearing a pig mask. “It’s a mosque. People come here to pray and to be honest all that they are doing is making it hard for people to come and go. We should be trying to live together,” Drali said.
Earlier, Paul Golding, the leader of Britain First, said his group would protest against Choudary whenever the opportunity arose. “We were here last year too. It was like Rorke’s Drift … just us in the middle of thousands of angry Muslims.” However, the reaction of most people in the area was of general indifference. Among the worshipers was a family on holiday from Egypt, who posed for pictures with the police manning barricades while protesters shouted slogans from across the street.
“We saw them standing there and wondered why they were doing this. Everyone has a right to express themselves, I guess,” said one of the tourists, a young man who declined to give his name. A spokesperson for the Metropolitan police said that there were no arrests and that crowds dispersed shortly after 5pm after protesting from 1.30pm.