Those wondering how to respond to English Defence League marches this weekend can look to the example of tea and non-confrontation we set at York mosque
When we first heard about the English Defence League protest that was to take place outside our local mosque in York last Sunday, my colleagues and I sat down and thought about how we should behave. We are non-violent people and the EDL say they are too, so any notion of aggressive confrontation was ruled out immediately. We came up with a different approach. Now I hear that 50 more EDL protests are being planned across the country this weekend and I thought it timely to consider why the York response worked.
It was up to us to provide an atmosphere that was representative of our culture. When I say “our culture”, I mean all of us, including the EDL and the members of the mosque. We all think of sitting down with a cup of tea as something quintessentially English, so we thought that offering a cup of good old-fashioned Yorkshire tea and hospitality would be a start.
When we listened, we realised the EDL may have thought that we supported extremist behaviour and the Taliban. We pointed out that we condemned both in the strongest terms. Assumptions are dangerous, untested assumptions can be lethal. They were surprised, and they understood. The day ended in a game of football.
This weekend, we should try to put assumptions aside. Elements of the far-right are planning demonstrations across the country, including Birmingham, Luton and Leeds, in what has been described as a “day of hate”. But we should be careful about using such labels and consider instead sitting down with these groups to try to understand what has driven them to organise such events.