Hotel Cites EDL Fears for Cancelling Al Muntada Conference

A guest post from Hasan Afzal at Harry’s Place:

After a successful campaign by Harry’s Place readers and others around the web, I am pleased to announce that the Jihadist conference that was suppose to take place on the 8th of July 2012 has been cancelled.

I would like to thank the many people who called the Grand Connaught Rooms (“GCR”) and who copied us into e-mails to their MPs and representatives. I’m also glad the GCR saw sense and did the right thing, even if they rejected our help in the initial stages.

Whilst many will be celebrating, I note with a degree of dejection, that far-right groups, including the English Defence League, had attempted to hijack this campaign. However, this was a victory for ordinary people, who stood firm against hatred and bigotry of all types. Professionals, students, mums, dads all rallied around our call to action, and expressed their concerns to the GCR by email and phone.

There’s a bit of spin here; fear of an EDL turn-out appears to have been the determining factor, not “professionals, students, mums, dads”. Bob Pitt writes at Islamophobia Watch:

…As you can see from the Casuals United screenshot, the explanation given by the venue operator was as follows: “The safety of our staff and guests is our absolute priority at all times. After careful consideration and liaison with the local police force we have taken the decision to cancel the booking.”

I had emailed the Principal Hayley Group [which runs the hotel] myself, urging them to reject calls to cancel the conference, pointing out that the people behind the campaign were extremists like the EDL and Harry’s Place. This morning I received the same email quoted by Casuals United. 

I emailed back saying that I couldn’t understand how a conference organised by an entirely peaceful organisation like the Al Muntada Trust could have compromised the safety of staff and guests at the Grand Connaught Rooms. I received the following explanation: “We cancelled the event due to the risk of public disorder, damage to our property and safety of our staff. This decision was made on Police advice.”

Afzal fails to make the case that the event would be a “Jihadist conference”; adverts for the conference are devoid of militaristic rhetoric, and the tone appears to be devotional. However, Afzal does highlight past quotes from four of the ten advertised speakers that can reasonably be characterised as either Jihadi or inflammatory. Further, one of these four speakers is the notorious Haitham al-Haddad.

Al Muntada may indeed be “entirely peaceful”, and controversial speakers may have positions within their community that are owed to more than just particular distasteful comments they may have made. Nevertheless, it’s perfectly reasonable that those who make inflammatory statements should be called to account for them, and that those who appear to endorse or facilitate such persons should be challenged for doing so. Worries about the EDL may have been well-founded, or they may have been a convenient way for the hotel to extricate itself from a controversy with the minimum of hassle. Either way, the spectre of the EDL does not change the fact that Al Muntada’s association with al-Haddad and others like him is discrediting.