• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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The “Anti-Extremism Alliance”

From Islamophobia Watch:

Peter Tatchell has announced that he will be joining a demonstration against Hizb ut-Tahrir’s International Khilafah Conference at the Water Lily Centre in Tower Hamlets on Saturday.

The demonstration has been organised by a new group called the Anti-Extremism Alliance, which has already issued an Open letter to Tower Hamlets Council and East London Advertiser demanding that the Water Lily cancel the booking.

…And who, you might ask, are the Anti-Extremism Alliance whose protest Tatchell is backing? Well, along with people like Faizal Gazi of The Spittoon blog and Tehmina Kazi of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, the signatories to their Open Letter also include Charlie Flowers of the Cheerleaders group of Islamophobic cyber-bullies. And given that several other signatories are associates of Flowers you’d be inclined to suspect that he’s behind this initiative.

Flowers’ supposed opposition to extremism hasn’t prevented him from establishing friendly relations with leading members of the English Defence League, as Talk Islam and Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion have shown…

Although I’m cited in the post, the above doesn’t reflect my views on the subject of Flowers and his associates. In particular, I don’t believe that he’s Islamophobic, and it’s clear that his association with the EDL is in the past: he apparently hoped that the EDL would focus on Islamic extremism rather than opposing all Muslims, and he disapproves of the direction that the EDL has taken.

He is, though, a bully and a thug who uses the internet to smear people and to make threats of violence: his boasts include the claim that his friends will “slap” me “upside the cheek” should they ever see me, and he’s also threatened that they would “stab” another critic “in the face”. In 2009 he disseminated the blogger Tim Ireland’s home address around the internet, and sent threats that included an expression of malice against Tim’s family (this was after Tim and I exposed lies by the director of “VIGIL”, a defunct “terror-tracker” organisation with which Flowers was formerly associated; background here). His motivation is primarily psychological rather than political: by latching onto anti-extremist activism he can enjoy the self-righteous thrill of the vigilante as he dishes out abuse and lies. And he’s not even really anti-extremist: his attacks on me have included promoting an abusive website created by some Nigerian Pentecostals who hate me for opposing the idea that children can be witches.

Alongside the “Open Letter” to Tower Hamlets Council, a letter was published a few days ago in the East London Advertiser, signed by “Harry Burns, NiceOnes UK Anti-Extremism Group, Redbridge”; he appears as “Harry Burn” in an accompanying article:

Representatives from several organisations including anti-extremism body Quilliam Foundation and pro-integration group Muslim Voices are calling on Tower Hamlets Council to step in over the matter.

Harry Burn, leading the organisations, said: “I thought that we’d seen the back of these groups in Tower Hamlets. They portray a horrible message and most Muslims I know despise them. We are trying to get Muslims and non-Muslims to say no to any sort of extremism.”

Ghaffar Hussain, head of Quilliam’s outreach and training unit, called the hosting of the group in Tower Hamlets “very worrying”.

The NiceOnesUK Facebook page (currently removed from view) identifies Harry Burns as a poster there using the name “Arry Bo”; this person also left some goading messages on my blog last October, and seems to be the same person as a former EDL activist named “Arry Ajamali”. Given that Hussain and Kazi have public profiles and some professional standing, it seems very strange that they should be willing for this individual to present himself as “leading the organisations”. According to the “Anti-Extremism Alliance” website, the protest is in fact being organised by “Adam Barnett – Alliance Against Extremism”; Barnett is with the anti-Sharia organisation “One Law for All“.

One NiceOnesUK Facebook administrator has been keen to downplay Flowers’ role within the group, although given the obvious cross-over with Flowers’ “Cheerleaders” group I haven’t been particularly impressed by this; according to a report in the Guardian in April, NiceOnes was formed by the “Cheerleaders” working with Kazi’s British Muslims for Secular Democracy. Kazi, whose activism I broadly support, has taken a “see no evil” attitude to Flowers; however, it’s clear that the association will be discrediting should anyone look in any detail into Flowers’ behaviour and character.

Islamophobia Watch also notes that the Casuals United blog, which is run by pro-EDL football supporters, reported Tatchell’s involvement with the protest under the headline “Peter Tatchell joins the EDL”. The headline is certainly inaccurate, and was obviously a crude attempt to appropriate Tatchell because he’s opposing Islamists. Whether this attempt was based on any particular knowledge of the “Anti-Extremism Alliance” remains unknown – the whole Casuals United blog has disappeared in the last 24 words.

Incidentally, I do not share Islamophobia Watch‘s view that Tatchell is against free speech for supporting the protest. Hizb ut-Tahrir remains free to say what it likes, within the law, but there is no reason why the Water Lily Centre has to facilitate their socially-corrosive activities.

UPDATE: A press release from the Quilliam Foundation has details of an upcoming roundtable event, entitled “Former EDL Members Speak Out“:

Harry Burns was formerly a senior member of EDL’s London division. Within London he helped to mobilise members and organise transport for demonstrations outside of London. He was also involved in the group’s logistics and its online activism, helping to run their youth website. He was present at many of their early London meetings.

UPDATE 2: According to Casuals United (which has now reappeared, minus the piece on Tatchell), Burns and his fellow speaker Leighton Evans were “not high-ranking EDL”, and they “have been to a handful of demos”.