The racist, anti-muslim English Defence League has been sent a clear message by the people of Tower Hamlets. People of all faiths and none, black and white, gay and straight marched in their thousands to show the violent thugs of the EDL that they are not welcome in the East End.

Camera: Dan Poulton | Edit: Ady Cousins

The demonstration, organised by United East End and Unite Against Fascism, was called to show the English Defence League (EDL) that attempts to divide the community and stir up hatred will not be tolerated. The size and energy of the protest showed the strength of that statement.

The EDL announced they would demonstrate against an Islamic conference to be held within Tower Hamlets. When the conference was cancelled, the EDL called off their protest, with their website proclaiming victory.

This was no victory for the EDL, however. Their leader Tommy Robinson admitted to the East End Advertiser that protesting in East London would be a ‘suicide mission’. The real reason why they didn’t protest was the swift response of the Tower Hamlets community to combat them.

Within days of the EDL’s announced protest a meeting was held and United East End was formed, with a national demonstration jointly called with Unite Against Fascism. Hundreds attended planning meetings, and over 750 attended a rally in the London Muslim Centre last week.

From local imams to the local priest, from school children to trade unionists, from community groups and beyond, thousands rallied against racism and were determined to march.

With over 5,000 taking part, the demonstration showed the EDL what they would have faced had they turned up. It was loud and strong, with people continuously joining the protest and packing out Altab Ali Park.

Speakers from a variety of campaigns, organisations and community groups highlighted the divisive nature of the EDL and linked the issues of racism with broader concerns.

UAF joint secretary Weyman Bennett emphasised the importance of the protest, saying it was a victory over the EDL.

Alex Kenny from Tower Hamlets NUT stated that the real threat to the community is unemployment and poverty, and Chris Nineham from Stop the War made the link between racism and the war on terror.

Both Tower Hamlets’ councilors Abdul Ullah and Oliur Rahman openly criticized the council for calling on both this demonstration and Islamic conference to be cancelled. To concede to any of the EDL’s demands begins to legitimise their arguments when their aim is to spread racism and hatred.

The government uses Islamophobia to justify the war on terror. Islamophobia is now the only “respectable” racism in Britain. That respectability allows the EDL space to stir up racism against the Muslim community and get on the streets.

Mass mobilisations as seen in Tower Hamlets damages the EDL’s confidence and ability to demonstrate.

This was the first time the EDL have been forced to call off a demonstration and thousands took to the streets to show the EDL what to expect if they ever think of coming to Tower Hamlets again.

This was a victory for anti-racists. If we couple this with a campaign to defend the Muslim community and tackle Islamophobia head on the EDL can be stopped. Let’s make this the turning point in the fight against the EDL.

Islamophobia- The facts:

United East End: [email protected]

The EDL have called another demonstration outside the Wembley arena on Wednesday 26 June. See for details.

Jo Gough & Dan Poulton

Dan is a writer, broadcaster and campaigner.  His most recent documentary was The New Scramble For Africa and his documentaries have appeared regularly on the Islam Channel. He is an organiser for Counterfire and a regular contributor to Counterfire site.