Well-known figures from Britain’s far-right groups pulled out of a debate yesterday at the last minute on Islam and British values organised by a Muslim charity.
The Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA) held a cross-panel debate entitled, “Does Islam Clash with British values?”, where Tommy Robinson (former leader of the English Defence League), Paul Golding (leader of Britain First) and Anne Marie Waters (Sharia Watch and UKIP) were invited to speak on the panel.
After three venue changes in six days (due to pressure by the police, an anti-fascist group and allegedly Anjem Choudary’s supporters), the event finally went ahead at the Hallmark Hotel in Croydon last night, albeit with the aforementioned speakers pulling out at very short notice.
Speakers pull out
Paul Golding informed iERA on Thursday evening that: “upon further reflection, security considerations and other issues, I have decided to decline the attendance.”
When assured by iERA that three security guards would be allocated to Mr Golding upon entering and exiting the venue, he said: “Unfortunately it’s a leadership decision.”
Tommy Robinson also pulled out of the debate on Friday morning after he was stopped by the police from taking part in the event. This is not the first time Robinson has been prevented by the police from speaking at debates.
He issued the following statement, which was read out yesterday by the chairperson, Sajid Varda:
“As has previously occurred when I was invited to debate about the Rotherham grooming scandal, I have been called in to see the Probation Services and informed if I attend tonight’s debate then I will be recalled to prison, so unfortunately I am unable to attend this debate.
“Tonight’s venue was cancelled twice following interference and could now possibly proceed with no audience participation.
“The time for suppressing subjects related to Islam has gone and the Government, police and councils should be actively facilitating these events to avoid further problems and open public discourse.
“By halting debate between the parties involved they are causing further problems as people need to be able to air their views and hold an amicable debate on these views.
“People that would be more happier to attend these debates and listen to the views of all parties are being pushed to participate in street demonstrations, as the only legal option remaining.
“When I am off licence on the 23rd of July 2015, I will arrange to participate in these debates or similar ones.”
Robinson suggested that the official spokesman of the UK wing of the German far-right group PEGIDA, Matthew Hope, replace him. Mr Hope agreed to take part in the debate until he pulled out two hours before the event started due to a “family emergency”.
Waters was seen by attendees to enter the main hall, seeking counsel from a group of supporters before declining to take part.
Waters explained that she felt outnumbered and was informed of the drop out by the other far-right speakers at very short notice.
iERA then offered her the opportunity to debate either their Head of Education and Research, Hamza Tzortzis, or Abdullah al Andalusi (Muslim Debate Initiative) one-on-one, to which she also declined.
Therefore, the “debate” was restructured as an interactive cross-panel discussion with an extended question and answer session between the panellists and audience members.
The initial venue for the debate was scheduled to be at the CEME Conference Centre in Rainham, Essex.
They cancelled last Friday after undertaking “further risk evaluation” with their executive committee and security company. They said when they “received further information from the Police” a decision had been taken that “permitting the event to proceed represents too great a risk to CEME.”
iERA told 5Pillars that the CEME were fully aware of all the speakers prior to an unannounced visit by Inspector Claire McCarthy from the Metropolitan Police a day before they cancelled.
Inspector McCarthy was not available for comment.
The Pavilion Banqueting Suite was then confirmed as the second venue on Monday 8 June.
When their address was publicly advertised on social media, the manager of the Pavilion (who wishes to remain anonymous) said he received a phone call from the General Secretary of Unite Against Fascism (UAF) Weyman Bennett, who pressured him to cancel the event.
The owner also claims he received threatening calls from “Anjem Choudary’s supporters”.
The Pavilion were fully aware of all the speakers before they informed iERA about cancelling the event on Thursday evening.
Three neighbouring businesses to the Pavilion informed 5Pillars that they received phone calls from the police and anti-fascists that Robinson and Golding were due to speak at the debate, and were told that the likelihood of disruption to commerce and disorder was very high if the two men entered Walthamstow.
Event coordinator for iERA, Mohammed Hussain, told 5Pillars that Tommy Robinson and Paul Golding were “last resort” after exhausting every other option to get more “mainstream” intellectuals or academics on the panel to discuss Islam and British values.
Mr Hussain said: “The Quilliam Foudation, the Henry Jackson Society, Sam Westrop from Gatestone Institute, the National Secular Society, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, the British Humanist Association, Melanie Phillips, David Starkey, Yasmin Ali-Bhai Brown, Richard Littlejohn, Andrew Gilligan, David Aaronovitch are just some of the individuals and organisations who iERA personally invited, but were either unavailable, declined to participate or did not reply.
“We even reached out to the Home Secretary and Boris Johnson, but did not expect a reply let alone an answer!
“iERA are willing to engage in open dialogue with people of all faiths and ideological persuasions by presenting the holistic message of Islam as a solution to the whole of humanity.
“By having these kinds of events it allows people who disagree with each other to have a civilised and honest discussion about their differences. iERA believe that by facilitating this, it will be more conducive and beneficial to British society.”