Mohamed cartoon exhibition coming to London in September, anti-Sharia group announces

The exhibition is being billed as an exercise in freedom of expression, but critics have said it is needlessly inflammatory

Doug Bolton
Thursday 02 July 2015 11:34
Protesters in Phoenix, Arizona, during a 'draw Mohammed' event outside an Islamic community centre in May
Protesters in Phoenix, Arizona, during a 'draw Mohammed' event outside an Islamic community centre in May

An anti-Sharia group has announced plans to put on an exhibition of cartoons depicting Mohamed in London.

Sharia Watch UK, the group behind the exhibition, say it will open in September 2015, and will feature Dutch politician Geert Wilders as a guest speaker.

The announcement has been met with criticism from anti-Islamophobia watchdog Tell MAMA, who said the exhibition is "not about free speech" as it is billed, but instead is intended to "irritate and inflame".

The exhibition will consist of cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed, which are being submitted by artists and supporters to Vive Charlie, an "online satirical magazine" which was set up in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings.

Far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders will be the guest speaker at the exhibition

Visual depictions of Muhammad are controversial in Islam, and similar exhibitions in the past have faced accusations of Islamophobia and demonstrations from Muslims.

Despite this, Anne Marie Waters, director of Sharia Watch, said "the aim is not to offend people", but added that people taking offence would not discourage them from holding the exhibition.

As well as her role as Director of Sharia Watch, Waters is a Ukip activist. In the General Election, she stood as the party's candidate in Lewisham East and came third, with 3,886 votes and 9.1 per cent of the vote.

At an anti-Islamist rally in London in April this year, she was filmed by a Mirror reporter saying that immigration from Muslim countries "has to stop entirely", and added that "many mosques need to be closed down."

A Metropolitan Police officer stands by during a dispute between a member of Britain First and a Muslims demonstrator in February

The guest speaker at the exhibition, Geert Wilders, is well known for his anti-Islam views. He has previously referred to Mohamed as "the devil", and has written that the Koran is a "fascist book" that should be outlawed in the Netherlands like Hitler's Mein Kampf.

Fiyaz Mughal, Director of Tell MAMA, said: "Inviting a man who is currently awaiting trial for racial hatred after vowing to make sure there were 'fewer Moroccans' in Holland is hardly the poster boy any sane or reasonable campaign wants to have as their keynote speaker."

"Let us not be fooled that this is about testing the boundaries of free speech. If they wanted that, they would do it without people like Wilders and that says it all"

Waters said that getting Wilders to attend the exhibition as a guest speaker was "very easy", adding: "I asked him, and he said yes."

Wilders' comments on Islam had him banned from entering the UK in 2009, with then-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith labelling him an 'undesirable person'. He flew to Heathrow in defiance of the order, and was quickly deported back to the Netherlands by border officials. His ban was overturned in October 2009.

The director of the group behind the exhibition stood for Ukip in Lewisham East during the 2015 General Election

Sharia Watch say the exhibition is "in honour of the cartoonists, bloggers and artists around the world who risk their lives in defence of free expression, and of those who have been murdered in this cause."

Waters said that hundreds of cartoons have already been submitted to Vive Charlie, some of which will be shown at the exhibition.

The exhibition is set to take place at a venue that is being kept secret by Sharia Watch, and is reminiscent of the similar event in Texas that took place in May, which resulted in two Isis-inspired gunmen, Elton Simpson and Nadir Hamid Soofi, opening fire on the building where the exhibition was taking place.

The two men were killed by police, and one security officer was injured by their fire. Geert Wilders was also a guest at this event, but was not harmed.

Speaking to The Independent, Waters said she was not worried about the possibility of a violent response.

"We're not really worried. We don't have the same level of violence here as there is in other countries - if we were doing this in the Netherlands I'd be more concerned, but we haven't had any threats so far."

However, she added that measures are being taken to make sure security is tight at the exhibition venue.

She added: "You can't live in fear. The exhibition is an act of defiance, we're standing up and saying 'this can't go on'. Freedom of expression is very important, and that's what this is about."

"We've got to stop putting Islam in a special protected little box - especially when Muslims are killing people abroad for exercising their right to free speech."

"It's about solidarity too, with the people elsewhere risking their lives to do this. The more we do it, the less controversial it will become."

The Metropolitan Police said they had no knowledge of the planned exhibition, and so could not say whether they plan to put any security measures in place at the venue.

They added that they may issue a statement on the exhibition closer to the opening time.

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