Everyone has a right to believe, a right to freedom of worship, and a right to freedom of conscience. These are universal human rights that are rights for all people around the world, regardless of whether we agree with their religion or faith (or lack thereof). Because we support such unquestioned freedom of conscience in a world where attacks on houses of worship are routine acts of hate, Responsible for Equality And Liberty (R.E.A.L.) is deeply concerned about the growing practice in the United Kingdom and Europe of protests at or against individual mosques.
In the United Kingdom, we are concerned about the recent protests and violence by protesters among the English Defence League (EDL) on April 3 and on May 2, 2010, and their efforts to block the mosque in Dudley. While the EDL is pleased with their success in blocking the creation of a mosque in Dudley, the larger question that must be asked is what is the message the EDL is sending to the world on British commitment to freedom of religion?
On May 28, 2010, the UK Guardian newspaper also reported on plans for future EDL protests at “Muslim centers,” including East London Mosque, Tower Hamlets, and Bradford this summer. The May 28 reports highlight a growing sense of anti-Muslim hatred, rage, and violence which is growing in the United Kingdom and which is targeting Muslims and Islamic houses of worship.
The UK Guardian reports and videos on an “undercover investigation” of the EDL shows supporters calling for hate against all Muslims, with chants such as “We All Hate Muslims,” use of racial slurs and profanities, and threats. The reports allege that the EDL is increasingly becoming infiltrated with others who hate, including Skinheads, Combat 18 Nazis, and other racists. Hate attracts hate.
The May 28 Guardian reports include:
— “English Defence League: new wave of extremists plotting summer of unrest”
— “English Defence League: Inside the violent world of Britain’s new far right”
— “The English Defence League uncovered” – 11 minute video report
I strongly urge you to look at these reports, especially the video report, to fully appreciate this issue.
Where there is religious discrimination and hatred, often there is resultant violence and terrorism. As with other houses of worship, there has been vandalism of mosques in the United Kingdom, one mosque attacked in Eccles on April 16, 2010, and another mosque building burned to the ground in Cradley in December 2009.
Any struggle or protest against religious extremism that uses hate and violence, attacks houses of worship, and attacks all individuals of one identity group without respect to diversity and individual views, is nothing less than a mirror image of another form of religious extremism.
The people in the United Kingdom must find organizations and leaders with credibility to speak out against such hatred, such violence, such intolerance, and who will be consistent in their support for our universal human rights, including our universal right to freedom of religion, worship, and conscience. One group that seeks to reach out to British Muslims and non-Muslims in a spirit of our shared human rights is the group British Muslims for Secular Democracy (BMSD.) In January 2010, when the anti-democracy religious extremist group Islam4UK sought to hold a march in Wootton Bassett, the BMSD promised to hold a counter-demonstration to show that other Muslims do not accept the anti-freedom, anti-democracy views of the Islam4UK group. Responsible for Equality And Liberty (R.E.A.L.) promoted this statement by the BMSD to stand up to the Islam4UK extremists, but such acts of responsible protests and consistent commitment to our universal human rights do not get enough media attention. This needs to change. Too little media and public attention is given to those who pursue a human rights solution to extreme views, as opposed to those that promote hatred and reject human rights – whether it is the EDL or the Islam4UK.
Another group in the United Kingdom and Europe that is protesting mosques is the “Stop Islamization of Europe” (SIOE) group. The slogan of the SIOE group is that “Islamophobia is the height of common sense.” In the United Kingdom, the SIOE has had two protests in front of Harrow Central Mosque in September 2009 and December 2009. In the September 2009 SIOE protests at the Harrow mosque, there was violence between supporters and counter protesters, as SIOE protest supporters went to the mosque chanting “Muslims out.” In the December 2009 SIOE protest at the Harrow mosque, the SIOE reportedly refused the opportunity to dialogue with leaders of the Harrow mosque.
The SIOE group also has other European divisions, as well as a sister group in the United States, the “Stop Islamization of America” (SIOA) group. One of these groups is the ‘Stop Islamiseringen af Danmark’ (SIAD) division in Denmark.
We are also concerned about the May 21, 2010 protests by the Stop Islamisation of Europe (SIOE) against a mosque in Aalborg, Denmark titled “no mosques in our streets.” The Aalborg SIOE/SIAD protest led by SIOE leader Anders Gravers was targeting a mosque in Aalborg because of reports that the mosque’s imam supports genital mutilation of women.
Responsible for Equality And Liberty (R.E.A.L.) shares the concern of challenging those who support abuse against women or any abuse of our universal human rights. But we understand that two wrongs do not make a right, and that seeking to protest houses of worship is not the way to gain the support of others on human rights issues. In fact, protesting houses of worship is a sure way to attract those committed to hate and violence.
The May 21, 2010 SIOE/SIAD march’s chant, however, was not about women’s human rights, but was to call for “no mosques in our streets.” Not surprisingly, we learned that the May 21, 2010 SIOE/SIAD protest was then joined by individuals representing a Nazi organization. TV2 NORD reports that the Nazi organization DNSB (Danmarks Nationalsocialistiske Bevaegelse – Danish National Socialist Movement) joined the SIOE/SIAD protest at Aalborg against the mosque, and the Nazi protesters were led by Daniel Carlson.
According to TV2 NORD, the Nazi DNSB group sought to raise its own banner with the Nazi swastika as part of its participation in the SIOE / SIAD protest against the Aalborg mosque. An embarrassed SIOE leader Anders Gravers then sought to remove the Nazi swastika banner from the protest march, which led to a scuffle.
Certainly, anyone who has ever been involved with a public activity or protest is aware of the challenges of unwelcome participants who may seek to “hijack” an event. However, the lesson that SIOE should have learned is that its messages that “Islamophobia is the height of common sense” and “no mosques in our streets” are viewed as messages that Nazi groups can support. This is why those who challenge religious extremist and anti-human rights activities must have a human rights message, human rights leadership, and human rights consistency, that groups like the SIOE and the EDL will never offer the public.
What has the SIOE learned from this humiliating experience? Has it learned not to promote “Islamophobia”? Has it learned that hate only attracts hate? Has it learned that human rights issues cannot be addressed by promoting intolerance and hate? Unfortunately, all that the SIOE has learned is that it needs to have another protest against the Aalborg mosque because the May 21 march was not satisfactory. Like the EDL, the SIOE also has other protests against mosques planned for the summer of 2010, which it calls “hatecentrals,” while they cannot recognize the hatred in their own activities. SIOE plans another protest against a mosque in Copenhagen on August 28, 2010.
SIOE’s leader Anders Gravers, whose Denmark event attracted the support of the Nazi party, will also be coming to America to join in a New York City protest on June 6, 2010 against a mosque in NYC.
Human Rights Begins with Human Freedoms
But who is the “radical” when they seek to stop others from having freedom of worship? What are the “democratic” values in seeking to intimidate others from seeking the right to believe at mosques? How can anyone be promoting human rights by seeking to deny freedom of conscience at a house of worship?
Since many such protesters claim to be Christian, what type of example do they think they are setting for those oppressed Christians in other parts of the world whose churches are regularly protested, worship services disrupted, worshipers attacked, and even churches targeted for terrorism? Are they determined to prove that they can be just as intolerant and disrespectful of our universal human rights regarding other people’s freedom of religion?
Responsible for Equality And Liberty (R.E.A.L.) promotes freedom of religion, freedom of worship, and freedom of conscience as our unqualified, universal human rights. We challenge those who deny such universal human rights.
Religious freedom, freedom to worship, and freedom of conscience is defined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
There is no caveat to these inalienable human rights, no asterisks, no qualifiers. Those who promote religious extremism of any kind may not respect these inalienable human rights. But those who reject, disrespect, and defy such universal human rights do not change the rights of all people, everywhere to such universal human rights.
If we are to defend such human rights, we must be consistent in our convictions for all people, not just for some people. We don’t have to like others, agree with others, or support other faiths – to recognize that the only way to fight for human rights is to be consistent in defending human freedom for all people, everywhere. People that we like and people like us are not the only ones with a right to believe and a right to freedom of worship. People we don’t like and disagree with have a right to believe. We either support universal human rights or not – there is no “relative” human rights just for some people, some times, in some places. But remember, even if we choose not to support such universal human rights, all people will still be entitled to them.
People in every part of the world of every faith have a right to freedom of worship.
We cannot struggle for human rights if we do not acknowledge and respect such basic human freedoms.
We cannot build any consensus of humanity to effect change based on hate and violence.
Choose Love, Not Hate. Love Wins.