Anti Fascism,  Anti Muslim Bigotry,  EDL

Exiting the Echo Chamber: Ivan Humble and Manwar Ali on Radio Suffolk

‘This country will be an Islamic state within 30 years’ says Barry from Felixstowe

Manwar Ali, a Suffolk Imam who runs the charity JIMAS, was a mujahedeen fighter in the 80s and 90s but is now trying to stop Muslims going to Syria or Iraq.

Ivan Humble used to be the Eastern regional organizer for the EDL, but left it earlier this year to focus on improving relations between communities. Even while still an EDL activist he’d had the unusual distinction of being praised by EDL News (an anti-EDL site) for trying to promote dialogue with Muslims following the murder of Lee Rigby.

Yesterday both men were the guests of Mark Murphy on BBC Radio Suffolk, responding to questions from members of the public.

The conversation brought out some telling parallels between their journeys into and out of extremism. Ivan explained how his concerns started around the time of the Luton parade (when poppies were burned by Al-Muhajiroun supporters) and these drew him to discover the EDL.  He explained (around 1:10) that he became caught up in this world and never listened to alternative views – but then he started to make contact with local Muslims and his perspective began to shift. Manwar had also been fired by perceived injustices in the world, but now regretted the part he had played in stirring up radicalism.

One thing which struck me about the interview was the way both Ivan and Manwar made statements one might more readily associate with the ‘other side’. This is Ivan’s take on Muslims in the media:

“The British media has got to take a lot of blame for the insecurities we feel about the Muslims and the Islamic faith because they don’t want to print the positive stories’.

Later, at 1:52, he complained about a skewed headline in the Daily Mail which he perceived to be anti-Muslim. When Mark Murphy challenged him, saying that it was the media’s duty to report news – Ivan responded wryly ‘yeah, but without the little twists.’

I particularly agreed with this point, also made by Ivan:

‘You need to take on Islamists without alienating the whole Muslim community’ (around 1:21)

He went on to argue that the police have been softer on Muslim extremists than on EDL activists distributing leaflets. Manwar agreed – he thought the poppy burners were let off very lightly whereas EDL marchers were handled more robustly (1:23) and also endorsed a point made by Mark Murphy, who suggested that the police adopted a soft approach in the hope of defusing tensions but that this just fuelled the fire for the EDL. Manwar echoed Ivan’s view that people needed to speak English, and added ‘all this translation that we get into in council proceedings … is totally unacceptable.’

The conversation then shifted to a discussion of Islam itself. Manwar readily acknowledged that more Muslims were committing crimes in the name of their faith than members of other religions, but asserted that this was down to a range of factors, and should not be ascribed to some unique flaw in Islam itself.  He went on to agree that there was a real problem with Muslim hate preachers in this country (around 1:39) and that this meant that disaffected Muslim youths were more likely to get set on a path of violence and extremism than (for example) their white working class counterparts.

Manwar expressed sympathy for Ivan’s point that people like him had helped bring issues such as FGM and radicalization to people’s attention (1:46), and said we shouldn’t shy away from open debates on such issues.  He also agreed that, taken in isolation, some passages in the Qur’an did seem to promote violence and intolerance – that clearly wasn’t his own view, but demonstrated his willingness to engage directly with people’s concerns.

Finally Manwar Ali condemned the outbreak of antisemitism following events in Gaza, including recent news stories about violence associated with supermarket boycotts (which reminded him of WW2).  Ivan said that he thought people demonstrating against Israel at least needed to make it clear that they opposed Hamas as well (1:56).

It seems very positive that two people from different sides of such a polarized debate can not only talk to each other but identify many shared views. Both are well placed to extend this understanding beyond a personal conversation, and encourage dialogue within and between their respective communities.

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