Muslim rally organisers tell extremists to stay away

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The Independent Online

Thousands of Muslims will gather in central London today in a show of defiance against Islamic extremists who last week called for the death of Westerners after the publication of cartoons defiling the image of the Prophet Mohamed.

The rally is expected to be one of the biggest Muslim demonstrations to ever take place in Britain. Organisers of the event have told Muslim agitators that they will not be welcome and the Metropolitan Police have said they will arrest anyone carrying banners intended to incite violence. Police are also prepared to combat any threat from extreme right-wing groups, including the BNP, who may want to try to hijack the event.

The Muslim Council of Britain, which is organising the event, has received a handful of race-hate e-mails after the demonstrations last week in which extremist Muslims waved offensive banners calling for the murder of those who insult Islam.

The British National Party has published some of the cartoons on its website. "British newspapers have united in their cowardice by refusing to carry the cartoons which have caused a storm of protest and anger amongst the Muslim world," read the accompanying statement.

Inayat Bunglawala, spoke-sman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said that no form of extremism would be tolerated at the rally. "The reasons for the really are two-fold. We want to allow peaceful expression of the hurt caused by the publication of the cartoons but we also want to allow people to publicly distance themselves from the extremists because for most of Britain this is the only impression they have of Muslims in this country."

He condemned the extremists for their reaction after newspapers in Denmark, Norway, France and Germany published the cartoons. "They are the mirror image of the BNP and have done more harm to Muslims living in this country than that caused by the BNP," he said.

But other representatives of moderate Muslim groups questioned the value of holding a rally. Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the Muslim Parliament, said: "I think we have had enough protests and the time has come for Muslims to go back to work. The best way to earn respect is by leading peaceful lives rather than going on marches, no matter how important they are. We would be better working towards ending social exclusion and marginalisation in our societies. I won't be attending the rally."

Mr Bunglawala said: "I wish we didn't have to hold this rally but how else can we distance ourselves from the extremists?"

The rally, which begins at 1pm, is being supported by 400 Muslim groups affiliated to the Muslim Council of Britain. The publication of the cartoons was debated during a comedy festival which began yesterday. Jokes about religion and whether there are no-go areas for satirists will be discussed at the Leicester Comedy Festival.

The festival's founder and director Geoff Rowe said: "It's really important that when putting together the programme for the festival we consider issues about what people can tell jokes about and what they can't."

Who's going on the march - and why?

NAZIR AHMED, 35, BARRISTER

"I'm going to the march and I'm a law-abiding and peaceful citizen. We have a responsibility to show our anger and frustration in a peaceful way. The march will give a clear message that ... in a democratic society everyone has freedom of speech, but it is not unconditional. The Danish paper has hurt millions of Muslims."

MUZIBUL ISLAM, 36, SOCIAL WORKER

"I will definitely be going. Not many people have a high awareness of the Prophet Mohamed - and the image some people have is wrong. There have been demonstrations recently that a lot of people in the community didn't agree with. We need to tackle views like the Danish cartoons in a diplomatic manner."

MOHAMMED KROESSIN, 35, CHARITY WORKER

"I'm thinking about going on the march but I need to weigh up the pros and cons. The main benefit is that there will probably be 50,000 Muslims in Trafalgar Square. But one guy could hijack the event and create negative press, and that's why I'm in two minds about going."

DEEQA HASSAN, 19, HEALTH STUDIES STUDENT

"I can't go to the march because I'm working, but I would love to. Personally I don't think it will make much of an impact. A lot of my friends are going and everyone is angry. I think the media should be more responsible. The Prophet Mohamed is pure, and it's disgusting to draw him as he was in the cartoon.''

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