Members of Luton’s Muslim community packed into the Crescent Hall in Bury Park on Saturday night for a meeting aimed at tackling Islamophobia.
Guest speakers included journalist Yvonne Ridley, and Cherie Booth’s sister Lauren Booth, both converts to Islam. Also speaking was political commentator Mohammed Ansar, and Luton Borough Council leader Hazel Simmons.
Lauren Booth, who spoke on the topic of Women and Islam, told the audience: “I’m not sure we can call the reaction we get in Luton ‘Islamophobia’. People here base their reactions on a lot of reading, they will be sure they have a full and rounded definition of what Islam is. People might be wishing to rescue you from something they genuinely believe is bad.
“As women we are like celebrities, we are the front page of Islam. We can see ourselves as ‘Brand Islam’. We need to be bastions of the community and share the good values of Islam.”
Mohammed Ansar warned that Luton, as in the days of football hooliganism, was being threatened by “dark shadows of intolerance and hatred”. He said anti-Muslim discourse was increasingly being seen as legitimate, and said the country was in the middle of “a Muslim civil rights crisis”.
But he accused Muslims of being their “own worst enemies”, saying: “We have the best product but the worst salesmen.” He continued: “It is not right to abuse troops, it is not right to deny children a proper education, it is not right to threaten homosexuals or others.”
English Defence League leader Stephen Lennon was denied entry to the meeting by security staff. He said on Monday: “It was supposed to be a public meeting but it wasn’t. All we hear is that we need to sit down and talk but no-one wants to talk to us.”
The leader of a gang of violent anti-Muslim racists is denied entrance to a Muslim meeting. It’s inexplicable.
Update: For the EDL’s response, see here.