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The EDL march in Cambridge

The EDL, and its supporters, claim that Cambridge is under the thumb of extremists, that it needs to target Cambridge because it’s full of intolerant preachers, people who make the streets unpleasant, and of course terrorists.  They’ve got it half right I suppose – in the past week I’ve heard a pretty fundamentalist preacher in the shopping centre, had a brush with some rather unsavoury types near the mosque and heard that a terrorist had been arrested.  The only problem is – I’m fairly sure none of these were Muslim.

Today about 250 members of the EDL came to march – and the UAF and other groups arranged a counter protest involving 1000 people.  I didn’t take part in the whole march, but did join the latter group at the beginning of the day in Market Square, and demonstrated with members of the Cambridge Labour Party.  As I walked up Mill Road I noticed many anti-EDL posters in the windows, some in Muslim-owned shops such as Al Amin Stores, but plenty in other shops such as our excellent local butchers and wine shop.  In town, the atmosphere seemed calm and, although the police were out in force, some were having their photos taken with tourists and others seemed to be busy giving directions.

The demonstration in Market Square was friendly and relaxed and seemed to include people of all ages and backgrounds. I realize UAF is not beyond criticism, but I think this particular demonstration drew together people who perhaps don’t usually turn out for protests but felt indignant at the way the EDL have tried to stir up trouble in a very relaxed, multicultural (in a good sense) area where I’ve never been aware of any tensions between communities.  Timothy Winter tries to explain here why the new mosque is an ill-judged target for protests.And I have to say it really does look as though it’s going to be a very attractive building.

On the way home I saw huge numbers of police as I approached the Mill Road area, home to the disputed mosque.  I asked some anti-EDL protestors how the rest of the march had been, and they said it had gone well and they hadn’t seen any trouble.  Outside Al Amin stores I noticed an elderly woman wheeling a shopping trolley with a poster on it saying ‘welcome to multicultural Cambridge’, but otherwise things seemed as normal.   Apparently three people have been arrested.  Here’s a useful brief summary of the day from the police perspective.

Inspector Robin Sissons, who was in charge of the operation, said: “We’re happy with how the day has gone. The UAF march went off without incident which was good considering it was such a long march. The EDL was a bit different. There were a lot of men who had consumed alcohol and there were scuffles.