By Peter TatchellTo Taichell's credit, he recognizes that human rights issues should apply to all. His characterizations of British Muslims appear to be a bit too sunny, as I would guess that most of those who treat him with respect have very little problem with Hamas or Islamic Jihad targeting Israeli civilians. Moreover, the fact that the British leftists who co-sponsored this hatefest did not speak out against physical attacks by the protesters on one of the few non-Muslims marching.
In London, this year's al-Quds demonstration - held last Sunday - had the themes of: "End Child Killing! End Oppression! End Israeli Apartheid!" It was supported by the left-wing Respect Party, 1990 Trust, the Muslim Association of Britain, the Islamic Human Rights Commission, Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Federation of Student Islamic Societies. The post-march Trafalgar Square rally was addressed by the Respect Party MP, George Galloway, and by the former Daily Express journalist, Yvonne Ridley.
As a long-time supporter of justice for the Palestinian people, I decided to join the protest. I am against Israel's illegal occupation of the West Bank, its divisive Berlin-style wall, its illegal nuclear weapons programme and its often indiscriminate military operations that kill innocent Palestinian civilians.
But I object to the way the al-Quds Day marches invariably hijack the Palestinian cause and use the occasion to also support the tyrannical, Holocaust-denying Iranian regime and its fundamentalist, terrorist offshoots, Hamas and Hizbullah - two organisations that mirror the Israeli disregard for international law, human rights and innocent civilians. Defenders of Hamas and Hizbullah claim that these two movements have popular support. True. So did the Nazis. Hitler won the most votes in the 1933 elections. But that did not make him right or justify his anti-humanitarian policies.
By aligning justice for Palestine with the injustice of the Iranian autocracy, al-Quds Day undermines international sympathy and support for the Palestinian people. While it suits the public relations purposes of the tyrants in Tehran to pose as anti-imperialists and defenders of an oppressed people, Iran's support for Palestine is the kiss of death.
The London al-Quds march was almost exclusively Muslim and fairly devout, judging by the preponderance of hijabs and beards. I joined the marchers, carrying two placards. One with a Palestinian flag and the slogan "Free Palestine", and the other emblazoned with the words: "Oppose the government of Iran, Support the people of Iran."
The latter placard included a photograph of a 16-year-old Iranian girl, Atefeh Rajabi Sahaaleh, who was publicly hanged in 2004 in the city of Neka for "crimes against chastity", after having been sexually abused during her early teenage years. Tehran hanged the female victim of abuse, not the male perpetrators. Then the ayatollahs lied that she was 22, to cover up the fact that they had hanged a minor, contrary to international human rights laws that Iran has signed.
This case of state-sponsored murder is, of course, just one aspect of a much wider pattern of human rights abuses by the Iranian regime, including the arrest and torture of student and trade union activists; the execution of Sunni Muslim leaders and ethnic Arabs and Baluchs; the closure of newspapers and detention without trial of journalists; and the arrest of more than 100,000 women for the crime of dressing "immodestly" (such as letting a few wisps of hair show from under their hijab).
The Iranian regime has all the characteristics of fascism, albeit in a clerical form. Its suppression of human rights is on a par with Franco's Spain, PW Botha's South Africa and Pinochet's Chile. But whereas the latter three dictatorships provoked global protests, Tehran's tyranny elicits mostly silence and inaction from left and liberal opinion. Why the double standards?
As soon as I turned up at the al-Quds demo, I was subjected to a barrage of violent, threatening invective from large sections of the crowd. Some started chanting: "Tatchell is a Zionist, Tatchell is a paedophile. Get out! Get out! Get out!'"
This paedophile slander was accompanied by allied falsehoods that I support "western attacks on Muslim lands" - despite my long-standing opposition to Russia's war in Chechnya, the war in Iraq and plans for a US attack on Iran.
Such lies show the moral depravity of many Islamists, who readily borrow from the tactics of Stalinists and the BNP to smear and discredit anyone who disagrees with them. Indeed, some fundamentalist leaders have admitted that it is morally acceptable for Muslims to lie in order to defeat "infidels" and to advance the Islamist cause.
I was treated to a torrent of hatred all the way from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square. Some of the al-Quds marchers shouted things like: "You are all Zionists and CIA agents. How much money did Bush pay you to come here today?" Others claimed: "Stop posing as a supporter of Palestine. You have never supported Palestine" - malevolently disregarding the fact that I was a founder member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in 1982.
Six of the al-Quds marchers made attempts to physically attack me. It was only police intervention that stopped them.
What I found odd is that the people who abused and attacked me were supposedly ultra-devout Muslims. Yet their manner was more thuggish than pious. Like their Iranian mentors, they no doubt claim to represent true, pure Islam. In my view they behaved in a most un-Islamic and unreligious way; offering very negative, unattractive caricatures of the Islamic faith and the Muslim community.
Many of the marchers appeared to identify with pro-Iranian Shia fundamentalism, which preaches a gospel of hatred and violence against Jews, gay people and even against other Muslims who disagree with their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam.
None of my Muslim friends believe this bigoted nonsense, and most Muslims in Britain reject such intolerance. In my prison and asylum work, helping many gay and straight Muslims, I am constantly encouraged by imams who show great compassion and tolerance. They happily work with me, despite my atheism and gayness. This is the kind, gentle face of Islam that never seems to be newsworthy.
A different kind of Muslim predominated last Sunday. Many of the marchers were carrying Hizbullah flags and chanting: "We are all Hizbullah now." When I pointed out that Hizbullah kills innocent Israeli civilians, and endorses the execution of women and gay people who transgress their extremist version of Islam, I was told things like: "That's good. Society has to have order. These punishments are necessary for the good of society."
And just imagine - if, in the UK, a die-hard supporter of Palestinian Arabs gets physically attacked in public during a rally with many police around, how safe can Jews feel walking around Trafalgar Square? It appears that Great Britain is replacing a free culture with a fear culture.
This violent, hateful rally did not get any coverage in the mainstream British press, nor was there any condemnation of the sponsors.
Blogger Edgar Davidson was there and mentions:
What amazed me was that, on what should have been a lovely Sunday afternoon for London's tourists and shoppers alike to enjoy the centre of town, the police not only allowed this demonstration but actually closed the whole of Piccadilly and the streets around it for what turned out to be several hours. Anyway, when we got to the demonstrators we held up some Israeli flags; the police told us to put them away (although, to be fair, they did tell us that there was a counter-demonstration we could join). But it is a bit ironic that the Islamafascists are allowed to carry Hizbollah flags and placards inciting terrorism (all funded by a regime that is killing British soldiers in Iraq) but the police would not allow an Israeli flag to be held up for 'fear of inciting them'. I cannot begin to describe how disgusting were the scumbags on this march. Their contempt for Western values and hatred of Israel, was accompanied with a barrage of vicious anti-semitic abuse. Make no mistake this lot (despite the Neturai Karta idiots walking alongside them) were openly calling for death to Jews (not just Israel). They chanted "Kill, kill kill the Jews at us when they saw us with the Israeli flags.
Harry's Place blog shows the counter-demonstration, which was really an anti-Iran demo, not a pro-Israel one.