No, not really, but I’ve just received an e-mail that has reminded me of headlines from the past.

Shortly after the attacks of 9/11 and President Musharraf’s suggestion that he was to support the ‘war on terror’, a small number of women peacefully protested outside the Pakistan embassy in London. The following day in the Daily Mail, alongside the now obligatory image of a woman wearing the niqab, was the headline ‘Jihad in Central London’. Of course, for ‘jihad’ the Daily Mail meant ‘peaceful protest’…

Anyway, the e-mail I’ve received is about the ‘Yes to Equal Citizenship, No to Double Standards’ vigil that has been arranged (I presume extremely rapidly and in the style of the Daily Mail I suggest that for ‘rapidly’ you read ‘half-arsed’) for outside 10 Downing Street tomorrow, Saturday 16th February. As soon as I read it, my heart plummeted.

I really worry about what the motivations behind these type of events. Although quite irrespective of these, equally worrying are the objectives because let’s be honest, we all know how the media will cover it:

Muslim men with placards shouting…angry niqabis…the clash of civilisations…sharia versus democracy…jihad in central London

The list goes on. No doubt when the Mail on Sunday or the Sunday Express use any of these soundbites or use the obligatory images to accompany them, the same people who organised this will then denounce the media for attacking them. It’s a vicious self-perpetuating cycle that neither ‘side’ seems to want to break.

And so why do Muslims – especially when the Preventing Violent Extremism Together Pathfinder fund is bankrolling so many media training courses – continue to have almost an unholy penchant for marches, vigils, protests and so on that gift wrap and serve on a platter the typical media fodder that the tabloids and others love?

Personally, I can’t think of one of these type of events that have ever got the results that the organisers set out to achieve and so what is the probability of this public protest having the remotest chance of working compared to the probability it being counter productive?

Muslim organisations in this country seem to be the masters of unstrategic thinking and action, and by consequence, the masters of their own downfall. And so for example, before organising the ‘vigil’ I wonder to what extent the organisers got everyone ‘on board’ to ensure a unified and clear voice was heard? I wonder to what extent they discussed who they wanted to be addressing; who or what was likely to be changed by their actions; or what even was being demanded?

Is it for example more legislation? More restrictions? More censoring (all of which Muslim organisations have opposed in recent years)?

Or are the organisations involved merely wanting Gordon Brown and the Government to force wider society to stop hating/ disliking/ disagreeing/ misunderstanding/ questioning Muslims?

Of course if it is the latter of these and the Government is to force people to ‘love’ and ‘like’ Muslims, then under the banner of ‘No Double Standards’ Muslims should also be forced to respect the equalities legislation protecting gays, lesbians and transgender people for example. Obviously, all will agree with the premise and no double standards there at all…!!!

Another very worrying fact is that the event is badged as a ‘vigil’. I wonder though how many of the organisers or their supporters realise exactly what a vigil is:

From the Latin vigilia, meaning wakefulness, a vigil is a period of purposeful sleeplessness, an occasion for devotional watching, or an observance

I doubt that any ‘purposeful sleeplessness’ or ‘observance’ will be going on, except that is from the press hacks and their photographers cohorts waiting for another rent-a-quote to denounce democracy as ‘kuffar-ocracy’ or for someone to arrive in fancy dress as a ‘suicide-bomber’.

Despite nothing less than the belief that these groups and organisations have the very best intentions at heart, I just cannot see how watching a bunch of angry, largely male Muslims shouting and barracking outside 10 Downing Street are in any way going to change the views of the media, the Government or wider society.

From a PR point of view, I would suggest that it has probably already backfired and is, without doubt, another accident waiting to happen.

However, if you do want to participate in the ‘purposeful sleeplessness’ of getting ‘equal citizenship’ then here’s the details (and good luck):

‘Yes to equal citizenship, No to Double Standards’

Vigil outside 10 Downing Street
Saturday 16 February, 2-4pm

There come moments when it is important for fair-minded people to stand their ground. Now is a time for solidarity; to affirm respect, equality and parity for all Britons, irrespective of race and creed. Can it be good for Britain if a section of society – however small and socio-economically deprived – feels scape-goated and ostracised?

Following the Archbishop of Canterbury’s thoughtful address calling for a dialogue on shariah issues there have been appalling displays of prejudice and contempt towards Islam and Muslims. It is not a matter of being unduly sensitive to criticism, but rather a warning of the slippery slope from verbal mockery to physical intimidation. Do we really want Mosely’s Black Shirts back on the streets of Britain?

We are deeply troubled with the suggestion that it is somehow OK for a Muslim MP to be bugged because of the ‘war on terror’. We are worried by headlines like ‘Minister warns of inbreeding Muslims’. We are upset when an eminent Islamic scholar is denied entry to the UK. We are troubled that our concerns on issues of sacrilege are dismissed as an infringement on freedom of speech. It is no wonder that even in our schools, Muslim children highlight their fear of bullying more frequently than those from other faith groups. Is this the society of the future we want – one of first-class, confident citizens and second-class, anxiety-ridden citizens?

It is with these questions in mind that a number of civil society organisations have\n come together to stage a vigil outside No. 10 Downing Street on Saturday 16th February 2008 at 2pm, under the slogan ‘Yes to Equal Citizenship, No to Double Standards’.

Supported by: Muslim Council of Britain and the British Muslim Forum

British Muslim Initiative, Islamic Forum of Europe, Muslim Association of Britain, Islamic Human Right Commission, Islam, Young Muslim Organisation UK, Muslimaat UK, The Cordoba Foundation, Centre for the Study of Terrorism, Friends of Al Aqsa, Palestinian Forum in Britain. IslamExpo, FOSIS, ICMG UK, Sri Lanka Islamic Forum UK, Algerian League in Britain and many others

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