Opinion: Is a peaceful protest this weekend a perfect tribute to those who fought for our right to do so?

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Picture of crowds at the Islam Bedford Palestine demonstration on 4 November 2023
A protest on Saturday, 4 November took place in Silver Square and was attended by around 500 people. Image: Islam Bedford

This weekend a peaceful protest will take place in London calling for a ceasefire in Gaza amidst the killing of thousands of innocent men, women and children in Israel and Palestine.

While the debate on how to bring this bloodshed to an end, ensure the safe return of Jewish hostages to their families, and get much-needed medical aid food and water into Palestine continues, some argue that one debate not needed is if a protest on armistice weekend calling for an end to this conflict should be allowed.

Our Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, who should be focused on defending our freedoms and protecting the vulnerable, has called the protest a “hate march”, with little to no evidence that anyone attending is an antisemite or a supporter of Hamas.

The Prime Minister has even stuck his nose in, seemingly to appear as though he has control of the situation whilst also proving he hasn’t.

PM Rishi Sunak has said he’ll hold Met Police chief Mark Rowley responsible if anything goes wrong but Number 10 also says that the PM didn’t approve his Home Secretary’s comments in The Times today where she attacked the Met Police’s handling of the protests.

Ms Braverman believes that the Met Police are showing favouritism in how they deal with different protests.

She claims aggressive right-wing protesters are “rightly met with a stern response”, yet “pro-Palestinian mobs” are “largely ignored”. She has also tried to draw parallels to the marches and the situation in Northern Ireland.

Comments which led to the leader of Northern Ireland’s Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), Colum Eastwood calling Ms Braverman a “pound shop Enoch Powell”.

The Foyle MP also told the BBC it was a “display of aggressive ignorance” and claimed “she is deliberately stoking division to bolster her brand among the Conservative Party’s right-wing”.

Former police officers and MPs have also condemned her comments, with some calling for her to be sacked, and rightly so. Her words are inflammatory and incorrect.

There have been marches and protests in London and across the country for the past few weeks. Out of the tens of thousands of people, of all faiths and backgrounds, attending those marches, a handful of arrests have been made. Even fewer have been charged with actual public order offences.

As a Met Police spokesperson said, “The vast majority of people demonstrated peacefully”.

It seems Ms Braverman is more interested in creating headlines for herself and shaping her post-general election career than working constructively with all the communities she is meant to represent and help an already complicated situation.

As her article in The Times was not approved by No 10, she has breached the Ministerial Code. A code that seems to be dismissed on an almost daily occurrence by this Government.

The Prime Minister has the power to punish a minister by demanding a public apology or even sacking a minister who is deemed to have breached the code.

I don’t recommend holding your breath waiting for either of those things to happen.

Armistice

Armistice weekend, in particular, Remembrance Sunday is, as many of our readers will know, an opportunity to reflect and give thanks to those who died, were injured, or served in conflicts to protect our way of life.

It is marked on Armistice Day (11 November) by a two-minute silence on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

The National Service of Remembrance is held at the Cenotaph in London, with other events being held across the UK and Commonwealth on Remembrance Sunday, the nearest Sunday to the 11th, which this year is 12 November.

It is not, as one reader posted on our Facebook page this week “just for the British”. It is observed by multiple cultures, communities and faiths across the Commonwealth.

As a young boy, I took part in many Remembrance Sunday Parades as a cadet, and while I didn’t then go on to serve in the military, I, like many of you, have previous generations of my family who served in both world wars and current family and friends who are either serving or have served recently.

I believe that being able to protest responsibly and peacefully on any day of the year is a perfect tribute to those people we will remember and give thanks to this weekend.

We are all certainly more than capable of giving thanks for historical ceasefires whilst also calling for another.

The conflict in Gaza is dire. At the time of writing over 200 Jews of all ages are being held hostage by the terrorist group Hamas, who also killed more than 1,400 in their 7 October attack.

Since then, as the Israeli defence forces fight Hamas to find and free those hostages, it has been reported that 10,000 Palestinians have been killed in the crossfire.

Whether a ceasefire is an answer or not, those people whose situation is increasingly desperate do not have the time for petty debates or dangerous self-serving rhetoric from our political leaders about the interpretation of our freedoms.

Pausing calls for an armistice on a weekend that is about celebrating armistice is hypocritical and dishonours those who fought for our right to carry out peaceful protest without fear of prosecution.

This isn’t about disrespecting the fallen

Reading the comments on social media after we reported on the intention of Bedford and Kempston MP, Mohammad Yasin (Labour) to attend the protest himself this weekend, the only MP in the whole house who has hosted a public meeting on Gaza, it’s clear many are unaware of the facts.

Read: Bedford MP defends intention to attend London protest on Armistice Day

The protest itself takes place on Saturday, 11 November. While this is Armistice Day, it will avoid remembrance activities and the route does not come close to the Cenotaph where preparations for the National Service of Remembrance will take place the following day.

On the same day as the protest, there will be thousands of sporting events, concerts, plays, birthday parties, weddings, and countless other activities that don’t come close to marking a moment, let alone a day of remembrance.

In fact, I’ve no doubt, that there will be many who won’t even be really aware of what day it is unless someone reminds them.

While these events also taking place are not all comparable to a protest march, the point is, that life does not need to stop for us to pay tribute to the fallen.

In fact, I am certain that even those who will spend more time than most giving their individual thanks won’t be setting aside their entire day to do so.

National march for Palestine 12 November route map
The route of the National March for Palestine on 12 November has been approved by the Metropolitan Police and will not interfere with Remembrance Day activities at the Cenotaph. Image: Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Of course, it’s unlikely a protest in the UK will be heard by the Israeli Government and certainly not by Hamas, but it has caught the attention of people like you and me and got us talking.

Hopefully, this will lead to greater awareness about why this is happening and what led to it in the first place.

Read: Ride the News’ an unbiased history of Israel and Palestine part one (parts two to five can be found on their Instagram grid)

The Metropolitan Police have deemed the protest to be within the threshold of security concerns and have rightly resisted calls for the protest to be banned. It is after all the job of the police to enforce the law not to create it.

Speaking to members of the Muslim community in Bedford, at least 100 are travelling to the protest together, it is clear there is anger. This anger is not however aimed at Jewish people and none of them have said they support Hamas.

They are angry at constantly being treated as though they are the bad guys, and how their faith somehow connects them to those who carry out barbaric acts in the name of Islam.

One of the first stories I covered as a young journalist in Bedford was of a young Bedford Muslim who attended another march in London post-7/7.

A tabloid newspaper published a photo of him wearing a body warmer and gloves and said he was mocking the victims of the suicide bombers who carried out the 2005 terrorist attack in London.

Speaking to the man’s family and community leaders in the town at the time, it was clear that he had not intended anything of the sort.

It was also clear the community had collectively, in no uncertain terms, made him fully aware of how ignorantly stupid he’d been not to consider how delicate the situation was and how a simple clothing choice could inflame things further.

I could also sense, even back then, how tired this community was of trying to distance themselves from acts of terror.

Post 9/11, 7/7 and now 7/10 peaceful Muslims have been lumped in with terrorists. Now, alongside those of all faiths and none who support them, they are being told they are not aren’t allowed the freedom to call for an end to the killing of thousands of their brothers and sisters.

Of course, we should all be outraged at how innocent Jews have been killed and kidnapped, not just now but throughout history, but two wrongs do not make a right.

While Hamas must absolutely be dealt with, the plight of innocent people caught in the conflict must not be ignored and reports today that Israel has agreed to daily pauses in fighting to support the flow of humanitarian aid are welcome.

I don’t want to try and draw parallels between what is happening in Gaza and other conflicts as some have done, as I think that just belittles and even confuses the individual pain, frustration, and loss of life anyone in those conflicts has had to endure.

However, if someone wants to protest this weekend about something they feel is unjust, something they feel deserves to be highlighted in the hope it may bring about change and create peace in the world, I can’t think of a better time to do it

 
 
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