If you see Luton in the news this weekend…

You may see Luton in the news again this weekend, for all the wrong reasons. Marching under the banner of ‘back to where it all began’, the English Defence League are currently marching through Luton town centre. Right wing groups have flown in from France and Germany to join them. In response, Unite Against Fascism are mounting a counter-demonstration, and 1,800 policemen will be keeping them apart. I’d go and join the counter-march, except that UAF are just as angry as the EDL. In past confrontations, there have been more anti-fascists arrested than the original marchers.

Meanwhile, Luton itself is on lock-down, shops closed and boarded up for the day, football match moved to Friday night, station cordoned off, and the police helicopter is currently over my house. Apparently it’s going to cost £800,000 to police the event. Thanks a bunch, EDL.

The EDL claim that they are marching against militant Islam, and the ‘Islamification’ of the UK. That’s fair. Nobody, most Muslims included, wants militant Islam in Luton. But that’s not what it’s really about. Among EDL’s local actions are protests against a multi-faith chaplaincy in the mall. Considering that it’s a multi-faith and not an exclusively Muslim prayer room, and that it’s in a shopping centre, I can’t see how it’s going to turn out to be a hotbed of Jihadist insurrection.

Actions like this, against perfectly everyday and benign expressions of Islam, betray the ignorance and paranoia that underlies this supposed movement against militancy. Particularly ignorant, if you consider that after an EDL march in the Midlands, someone attacked a Hindu temple, apparently unable to distinguish it from a mosque.

Islamophobia is a clumsy word that is used badly more often than it’s used well, but it surely applies here. If you’re afraid that Muslims might be praying in your shopping centre, you’ve got a strangely irrational fear of Islam.

Really, what are they afraid of? Britain is never going to be an Islamic state. The vast majority of Luton residents get along just fine, and yet to hear the EDL leaders speak, you’d think we’re on a slippery slope towards beheadings outside the library. And that’s the irony of this weekend’s march – for all the bluster and the scare-mongering, it’s the EDL that are living in fear.

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