Back in 1997 when I started at uni it was quite exciting to see the difference between a small hippyish market town and a big city. Hebden Bridge wasn’t particularly cosmopolitan so moving to Manchester with lots of different cultures was quite a change. I liked being able to look around and find out more about what was going on. I’d lived in Harehills in Leeds until I was 5 so I was obviously aware of some of the differences, but we were all just kids so we didn’t pay that much attention. One of the less pleasant things about Manchester was seeing some pretty shocking posters around the uni campus. They were posted by Al Muhajiroun which was one of Anjem Choudary’s early outfits. It was pretty obvious that they were something of a joke and no one took them too seriously.
Al Muhajiroun and various other aliases became a lot more prominent after the terrorist attacks on the US and UK in the early to mid 00s. The groups were banned under the Terrorism Act but Choudary always seemed to get off with just a slap on the wrist regardless of how provocative his behaviour was. One of the most notable was setting fire to a Remembrance Day wreath on Remembrance Day itself a few years ago. I think it’s pretty obvious that he’s being used as an agent provocateur to flush out hot-headed but rather dim people who think they’re supporting his cause. They may not necessarily join whatever group he runs at the time, but they may be “inspired” by him. One of the biggest ways of making an impact is putting posters up saying basically “Your kind is not welcome here”. It might be something like “Shariah Law Zone” or, as in Cardiff last week, “Voting is not Islamic”. The thing with posters is that anyone can put them up anonymously. They don’t have to be members of a particular group and might even be put up by an opposing group just to wind people up.
What is pretty obvious is that these “Voting is not Islamic” posters certainly don’t speak for Islam in general. It’s a bit like saying the Westboro Baptist Church speaks for Christianity. I daresay whoever put them up did so with the intent of annoying people who are already suspicious of Islam. Whether it was some extremist Islamic group or someone else is neither here nor there. As with the old Al Muhajiroun posters, I think the best option is not to pay them too much attention. “But what are the Muzzies up to now?” I hear some say. They’re not up to anything. One may as well say “Aren’t the Crizzies daft?” whenever some bonkers televangelist opens his mouth.
I’m an atheist and I do have strong beliefs but I prefer them to come from a position of knowledge. I’ve been known to check bits of the Bible and I’m interested to know why people believe certain things. I think if more people took the time to understand what other belief systems say, they’d be less like to get wound up by some daft posters or other made up nonsense. It’s easy to cherry-pick or quote-mine, but pretty much all religions (and those of us who don’t follow any) have the central idea of respecting people for who they are.