Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I have Sindh

I spent most of Saturday tailing the latest, and largest, rally of UK Muslims protesting against those Danish cartoons.

I am a little out of practice with these things and came home with a fairly rubbish collection of photographs. I was quite pleased with one though. Through a deft feat of uncharacteristic acrobatics, I managed to grab a shot of one guy with ‘Soldier of Allah’ stencilled on his jacket with a glimpse of the statue of General Charles Napier in the background.

The juxtaposition of two very different kinds of soldiers pleased me. Particularly considering that Napier conquered the Sindh region of India, a large chunk of what us now Pakistan, back in 1842.

Ooooh, the irony.

A story at the time had Napier sending a one-word message back home - ‘peccavi’, which is Latin for ‘I have sinned

I have Sindh.

Get it?

I’ve never been a massive pun fan myself. And anyway, Napier didn’t come up with that stroke of colonial comic genius. A British newspaper made it up. The moral being that some things haven’t changed very much at all over the last 165 years.

The bloke who provided the pictures to the BBC also took a picture of the Soldier of Allah but he missed out Napier’s statue and the whole juxtaposition/ irony thing.

Presumably he just went for it because he saw a Paki demonstrator with ‘soldier’ written on his jacket.

Based on previous marches I’d say that there were something like 20,000 people there, the police estimated 10,000. Out of that 20,000 the most provocative things I saw were

  • a couple of stencilled jackets
  • a bloke wearing a black fisherman’s waistcoat
  • another geezer dressed in olive drab surplus fatigues and a fetching Taliban style hat

and that’s it. A handful out of 20,000. Let’s just say you would have seen about 100 times more military style clothing and glorification of violence at a gathering of gangsta rap fans than was on offer in Trafalgar Square that afternoon.

Looking at that handful of guys I couldn’t help thinking again about the self-perpetuating perfection of the Al Qaeda myth. In the same way that dozens of people phone the police and confess to the same murder, a handful of sad and disaffected Muslims are drawn to claim allegiance with this chimera of an organisation. So, whenever our police announce the arrest of ‘Al Qaeda’ operatives read sad, disaffected losers living in a bedsit somewhere, armed only with toothbrushes and Manchester United posters.


Mindful of recent public relations faux pas’, the organisers of Saturday’s march went to a lot of effort to ensure that people were issued with strongly worded but non aggressive placards. Though the one that said ‘We love the prophet more than our lives’ might have a been a little too saucy for some tastes.

And even though it was clear feelings were strong, there was zero trouble and not a single arrest was made. Though I have to admit the sight and sound of thousands of believers crying out Allah Akhbar! repeatedly did send a tremour down the old spine. A few guys riding around on horses carrying those long streaming banners, so beloved by movie makers, would have complemented the scene nicely.

Reading through and listening to what little coverage there was of the march in the British media afterwards, I sensed a mild feeling of disappointment at the lack of any serious, reportable action.

And that’s the problem isn’t it. Our media reports by exception. If nothing naughty happens you don’t hear about it.

I can understand, but not condone, that approach for commercial organisations but the whole point of having a public broadcasting service like the BBC, funded by a mandatory tax on all of us, is so that there is at least one news organisation that is balanced in its reporting. Contrasting the level of coverage given to the protest outside the Danish embassy and the paucity of coverage given to more moderate protests, then and since, I’d suggest that, no, the State Broadcasting Service has been far from even-handed in its portrayal of what’s going down.

Fuck it, if the BBC wants more viewers and to only broadcast exciting stuff why not just concentrate on death and tits and be done with.

Other things I realised on Saturday

  • Placards make handy prayer mats
  • Devout Muslims seem to be labouring under the misapprehension that Pepsi is less tainted with negative Western values than Coke
  • All Metropolitan police officers covering demonstrations should be issued with Gameboys

The numbers of police directly covering the march itself were considerable but I was struck, as I always am, by just how many were sitting in vans parked across the West End away from the march. Turn any corner into any side street and there they were. A pair of vans each containing eight bored looking coppers fiddling, for some reason, with their standard-issue bottles of spring water. Meanwhile people were being hacked up as usual all over South London.

One of the curious changes in London policing over recent years as been the tendency for policemen to travel around in packs. It’s almost as if they are scared to go out in groups of less than a dozen and without body armour and firearms.

Not that you can blame them. I would too if I could.

And so you have the curious experience of being a London ratepayer, forking ever larger amounts of money out in tax to pay for increased protection of empty office buildings and fewer foot patrols whilst violent crime goes from strength to strength.



As I said the feeling from the marchers was that they had strong feelings but they weren’t looking for trouble. Far from it. I spent most of the afternoon chatting with people who approached us in a friendly way to explain their feelings. A few people even beckoned to us to share their food after the march had finished.

These people are not looking for war, they don’t want to force their beliefs on us in any violent way, they just want to get by.

Warching the women in the march; clad in burkas and marching, quite noticeably, in separate groups behind the men, it would be so easy to be scornful of a belief system that is apparently so sexist.

But then you could ask yourself if it is so crap for women why do they sign up for it? As a rough generalisation, second generation British Muslim women are articulate, well educated and more than capable of looking after themselves. So what’s going on here?

Could it be that the secular culture on offer as an alternative looks to them to be a pile of crap? Maybe many of those women would rather buy into the Islamic package, warts and all, rather than one that has its women vomiting into gutters after a night out drinking or thinking that buying more shit will make them happier? The supposed clash of civilisations that so many interests are ramping up right now is arguably a lot more about lifestyle than theology.

Write those Muslims off as nutters and get the credit card out. Yeah.

Anyway, I came away from the march as I always do. Bummed out by the futility of it all. The story presented to the general public quite deliberately emphasises the differences between groups not the similarities and war it most certainly will be. There is no way out, no ideas on the table, no real movement that seeks a meeting of minds and no strong leaders speaking for sanity.

And even if any emerged someone would shoot them.


Daniel said...

Fascinating. Great Photo!

I escaped the mob in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, watching a satirical musical about Fascists and getting deep vein thrombosis in both my legs... I wonder how long we're going to have to wait for the era of Bush'n'Blair to get the musical treatment...

BigFrank said...

No wonder you havent spent so much time on flickr lately. With these novel-length blog entries who would have the time? ;-)

Stef said...

maybe I'm working on a novel ;)

Stef said...

... and besides, I recall voting 'save' on your last picture