Friday 9 September was the date, chosen for maximum offence. On this day, a Friday in Ramadan, the English Defence League and “Stop the Islamisation of Europe” decided to stage a fascist-style provocation, a so called “9/11 remembrance”, outside the newly built Harrow Central Mosque.
However the big talk beforehand evaporated on the day as 2000 counter protesters flooded the streets around the mosque, while only a few dozen EDL supporters sheltered behind police shields.
From midday the crowd had grown and mid-afternoon saw many local youth from schools and colleges join the hundreds of mainly young Muslims already gathered outside the mosque. Local antifascists including Unite Against Fascism supporters were present as well.
There had been a mobilisation from the UAF national office which swelled the numbers. At this stage it wasn’t clear how many the EDL would mobilise and it is a credit to all those present that they were there and prepared to stand together against the expected attack.
The numbers continued to grow throughout the day and then at about 5pm there was a rush across first a car park and then over a bridge as EDL hooligans were spotted.
Of course the police performed their traditional role of protecting the racists using their batons to beat back the youth. A bit later, a lone EDL personwas chased behind police lines outside the Civic Centre.
These few minutes from eight hours of protest were all the media required to fill the news bulletins and papers. Not just to the Daily Mail but also to the BBC, an attempted pogrom is “free speech”, while attempts at self defence are rampages and riots.
It was a great day and one that should send an important message to all the far right. It’s been a long time since the far right has attempted to stage such a demonstration in a multicultural area in London. That it was such a humiliating failure is good news for not just the Muslim community but for all minorities and for the whole working class.
However there were mistakes made and lessons to be learned.
It was shameful to see so little sign of any labour movement mobilisation. Three or four Unite flags, not branch banners, were the only union banners among the whole crowd.
I find it difficult to express how shocking that is. Twenty years ago you wouldn’t have been able to move for union banners, and the message to Muslim youth would have been loud and unmistakeable. The labour movement and socialists would have been obvious potential allies, and a pole of attraction, in the fight against racism and anti-Muslim prejudice.
North West London Workers’ Liberty produced and handed out a leaflet which allowed us to engage many of the crowd in discussion.
There was a generally good reaction once you got past unfamiliarity with basic socialist ideas. The idea that the fight against racism and fascism is one that must be won within the white working class went down particularly well.
So where to go from here? Locally the momentum from this victory should be used to create a borough-wide campaign against racism and fascism. Given the history and politics of UAF (basing itself on apolitical campaigning) it would be a mistake to allow UAF to present itself as a credible organisation to fill this role.
A broad, democratic community-based campaign which takes working class concerns seriously and aims to do rooted work across the estates of Harrow is what is needed. Stalls in shopping centres and UAF leaflets that “reveal” that the BNP is racist are not the answer.