Saturday 10 July, a group calling themselves the Ummah of Muhammad held a demonstration in Cardiff. This is probably just about the only real, first-hand coverage they'll get.
In the lead-up to the demonstration, the Ummah of Muhammad (UoM) put out press releases in which they claimed to be protesting only against bans on the veil and construction of minarets, releases which the BBC ate up and regurgitated without critical examination. The press releases are a mask: Ummah of Muhammad are the radical theocrats the English Defence League pretend all Muslims are.
They've been linked to the "Muslims don't vote for democracy" stickers that appeared all over Cathays and Roath and there was no change today. Signs like "Democracy = Hypocrisy" were all over. They also called for Sharia law to replace secular law in Britain and took up a quite threatening tone; chants included "UK, watch your back, Islam's coming back".
The good news is that Ummah of Muhammad remains a fringe movement, despite their name — calling themselves "Ummah of Muhammad" is roughly the same as if the British National Party called themselves the "Nation of England" — and their claims, they speak for only a tiny fraction of British Muslims and a national mobilisation only brought 30 demonstrators to Cardiff from all over England, hardly any locally, reminiscent of the "Welsh" Defence League demonstration demonstration. The bad news is that they are a fringe movement backed by someone with a decent amount of money &mdash full-colour stickers are expensive — and recall that securing the financial backing of capital is a critical step in the establishment of a mass fascist movement. The Ummah of Muhammad are a sprouting seed that should be squashed before they can take root.
The anti-fascist movement had only short notice of the demonstration and therefore could not mobilise en masse, with I think about thirteen attending over the course of the day, a few people arriving late and some leaving early. Present were members of Cardiff Communities Against Racism & the Socialist Party, Unite Against Fascism or the Socialist Workers Party (I'm not sure in which capacity), Cardiff Independent Antifa, several anarchists, but first and foremost in importance Cardiff's Muslim community. A Cardiff-born liberal Muslim took the lead in organising the counter-demonstration and members of other groups, including two Somali men who joined the counter-demonstration as passers by, rounded out a presence that showed the whole city, across racial & religious lines, was standing together against totalitarianism, whether it came from the religious right or the racist right.
A slightly smaller number, combined, of EDL/WDL, BNP and unaffiliated far-right, including one person who turned out to be an actual Nazi, were there. I don't think the EDL knew quite what to make of us, seeing as we were not just there protesting against theocratic Islamists but doing so while they were too afraid to even wave a St George's Cross. They stayed well away from us, didn't identify themselves at all, and received a lift from the police back to Cardiff Central; South Wales Police are turning into the far right's taxi service.
I asked recently whose side South Wales Police are on, and now my doubts are reinforced. The UoM demonstration was, if anything, over-policed, with at least 30 officers on foot plus horses. But the Ummah of Muhammad weren't "soft kettled" the way we counterdemonstrators were at the EDL demonstration; instead most of the police were facing outward, as if we were the ones planning to start trouble, while the Ummah of Muhammad received coach rides into Cardiff just like the EDL had. Most tellingly, on Thursday evening both the organizer and I got unannounced late-night visits from the police, asking what our intentions were for the counter-demonstration. I don't know what sort of attention the UoM got from the police but, well, seriously? The organizer is seventeen, I'm not deeply involved in Cardiff Independent Antifa, neither of us have any criminal record nor have either of us advocated initiating any violence beyond self-defence against the far right. The counter-demonstration Facebook group had fewer than 30 people signed up to attend. The police saw fit to bang on my door at 11:45 at night. Couldn't they have just rung us up?
After two hours of highly repetitive speakers and chanting, the UoM were led away without incident. The Left counter-demonstration watched them leave; the EDL and BNP went home early.
How do we, fighting on class lines, respond to a group like the Ummah of Muhammad? A few things are immediately apparent. We must connect the response to the broader Muslim community and, where practical, follow its lead in organising a response; as we saw in building for the EDL demonstration in Cardiff, mosques can be conservative forces, telling their members to stay home and not cause a fuss. Therefore it is advantageous to seek out connections with those groups likely to cause a fuss, that is, student groups. Furthermore, we must be doubly careful with crafting out message to make it clear that in opposing theocrats we are not endorsing nationalists, formulating that message by being confident in our own political attitudes.
It is by no means certain that the Ummah of Muhammad or any other Islamist group will make any progress in gaining a mass base. Whether it does, and from where, will determine our tactics if they ever do gather large numbers. If their base is middle-class Muslims, then we face the problem that the Ummah of Muhammad could develop into a genuine fascist movement; if we are certain of our analysis then we have our tactics in hand from history. If instead they instead have a fascist or fascistic core but build their support within the working class, then the UoM are indeed a group akin to the BNP or EDL. In the short term, our best immediate strategy is to undercut the Ummah of Muhammad and ensure they never develop a working-class base. Ergo we must not just bring to the working-class Muslim community a response to the demands the Ummah of Muhammad raise, but propose something better.