The presence of the English Defence League failed to disrupt the opening of a new Islamic centre in Luton yesterday.
The Discover Islam Public Information Centre, based in Upper George Street, is a community project which aims to provide a neutral environment for people to ask questions about Islam or Muslims that they would feel too embarrassed or intimidated to talk about otherwise.
But outside, surrounded by police, EDL leader Tommy Robinson and around 20 of his followers handed out leaflets which stated that the centre promoted “Luton In Harm-enemy“. The protest was responding to the views expressed on a blog by the centre’s manager, Yusuf Bonner, which Mr Robinson claims are “extremist”. Mr Bonner was not present at the event.
Inside, those running the centre attempted to ignore the EDL and instead focus on what the new building would bring to the town.
Discover Islam representative, Sufian Sadiq said: “Outside is an act of intimidation. I actually wanted to sit down and have a cup of tea with them, but they refused. I think the only problem is they haven’t had the opportunity to mix in with people like ourselves.”
Speaking about the centre, he said: “We conducted a survey and asked over 500 people, who are predominately non-Muslim, about their views on co-existing. The responses included, ‘I don’t know enough about Islam … I don’t know enough about religious practices … and I feel scared going into Bury Park and intimidated going into a Mosque’. We need to sit down as a community and combat this. We will come out and show that Islam is not intimidating.”
However, Tommy Robinson said: “We’re here to let the residents of Luton know what this centre is really about. We don’t need this form of Islam in our town and it is unbelievable that they are doing it under a banner of peace. We will be stepping up a campaign over the next three months, and we will close this place down.”
Luton council leader, Hazel Simmons attended the launch to show her support for the centre. She said: “A few weeks ago we had another challenge to Luton in the form of two television programmes. They gave an image that doesn’t represent us or the town that we live in or work in. Unfortunately that is the message that has gone out nationally and we’ve got to fight back against it. This is a groundbreaking initiative and a great opportunity for the town.”
A spokesman for Luton in Harmony said: “From what I’ve heard today, this centre is something the town needs, and something the non-Muslim community have said that they wanted. This is a lovely example of the Muslim community engaging, because they recognise they need to come out and dispel the myths and propaganda coming from people who don’t know anything about what Muslims are really about.”
Update: See “Luton Borough Council takes action against EDL over logo use”, BBC News, 15 March 2012
Stephen Yaxly, lennon, tommy robison, whatever his name is now days – its un like him to break the law!! really?!?!?! considering he was a very well known drug dealer in the Wigmore area a few years back, driving around in his pimped corsa that had what can only be described as the worst paint job in the world. this guy would not think twice about stamping on your face regardless of of skin colour or background. how can somebody claim to be defending england when its people like him that give it a bad name?!?! some things the EDL say make sence but this is not the person that they should have fronting them!! i saw him on news night telling us about muslims taking girls and getting them addicted to drugs………..who the hell is he to comment when he made his living from selling drugs to anybody who would take them…….I am proud to be english but i am not proud to have StephenTommyfool speaking on behalf of the ‘english’. he is just a drug dealing thug! he is not defending england! he is giving the working class english man a bad name. On your bike Stephen!!! go back to what you do best and sell drugs to low-lives like yourself!