Organisers pledge peaceful anti-Islam protest

(The Independent, UK) The organisers of an anti-Islam demonstration planned for September 11 today promised a peaceful protest, amid fears of violent clashes with anti-fascists.

The demonstration, organised by Stop Islamification of Europe (SIOE), is scheduled to take place outside Harrow Central Mosque in London on Friday.

Counter protests have been planned at the site, where a new five-floor mosque is under construction, and hundreds of people are expected to attend.

Speaking on behalf of SIOE, co-organiser Stephen Gash said: "We don't want any more mosques until all this hatred is sorted out."

He said the group, which uses the motto "Racism is the lowest form of human stupidity, but Islamophobia is the height of common sense", would work with police to ensure a non-violent gathering and denied accusations of racism.

"In the past we have never had any counter demonstrations. We stick by our motto and we get support from around the world," Mr Gash said.

He added: "It will be peaceful from our side. We always work with the police, we do what they say.

"We mean what we say and we say what we mean regarding racism because we don't tolerate any kind of racism, but Islam itself is another matter.

"We are against any form of totalitarianism and basically we regard Islam as the nastiest form of totalitarianism ever devised.

"We fundamentally oppose any introduction of Sharia Law into England, the UK and the European Union."

Mr Gash said he was expecting around 200 people to attend the demonstration, which is set to begin at 5pm, in support of SIOE.

Unite Against Fascism (UAF) has organised a "solidarity vigil" to "defend the mosque from racists and fascists", which will begin at 1.30pm, with a rally scheduled for 6pm.

In a statement on its website, UAF said: "Islamophobia – bigotry against Muslims – is as unacceptable as any other form of racism.

"Its aim is to divide us by making scapegoats of one community, just as the Nazis did with the Jews in the 1930s.

"Today they threaten the mosque, tomorrow it could be a synagogue, temple or church.

"Today they threaten Muslims, tomorrow it could be Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, blacks, gays, travellers or Eastern Europeans.

"There is no place for Nazis, racists or the BNP in Harrow's multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious community."

A spokesman added: "It is not normal behaviour to protest outside a mosque on a Friday afternoon. People who do this have hatred of Muslims and hatred of Asians and it is unacceptable.

"We will be there to provide a robust, determined and dignified demonstration against these people."

A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police said: "The borough has been working closely with the Mosque and other faith communities to ensure their concerns are taken into account in the planning of the policing response.

"We will attempt to work with the organisers of all protests to provide a proportionate and appropriate response, to ensure the safety of both local people and the protesters."

A spokesman for Harrow Council said more than 2,000 leaflets were being distributed to local residents alerting them to the planned demonstrations and advising them to go about their business as usual.

On Saturday a similar protest – organised by the English Defence League (EDL) – descended into violence as bottles and bricks were hurled on the streets of Birmingham.

Anti-fascists and EDL supporters clashed in the city centre as a heavily-policed protest spilled over into the main shopping area.

West Midlands Police made ninety arrests and detectives predict more will follow as officers trawl CCTV footage of the violence.

David Ashton, leader of Harrow Council said: "The mosque has been in Harrow for 35 years so it is part of the fabric of Harrow – we are puzzled why protesters are singling out Harrow Central Mosque as something new and threatening.

"Harrow has an excellent record on community relations.

"The people staging this protest – both the demonstrators and as we understand it the counter demonstrators – appear to be coming form outside the borough.

"It is a great shame that these people feel the need to import their more extreme views into our borough.

"Harrow does not tolerate extreme views either from those who seek to misuse Islam in the name of a violent agenda or political hardliners who try and create divisions among people from different backgrounds."

The new mosque, in Station Road, Harrow, is set to be one of the capital's largest when it opens next year.

The 61,839 sq ft (5,745 sq m) building will boast a gym, a creche and a cafe. A 131ft (40m) minaret will complete the five-floor construction, angering some right-wing campaigners.

Mr Gash branded the scale of the new mosque "triumphalist", while EDL organiser Tommy Robinson told The Times: "It is near enough the size of Wembley. Five floors. That's not good for community cohesion."

The building, which was granted planning permission in 2000, will replace the current mosque – a conversion of two houses situated next door to the new development.

Mr Gash said he did not expect a "substantial" number of EDL supporters to attend, but the group's Facebook page listed Friday's protest under its upcoming events.

A BNP spokesman said: "We will not be there, we have better things to do."