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We Must Stand Up to the EDL

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The Metropolitan Police has ruled that the English Defence League is permitted to march this Saturday, albeit largely outside of Tower Hamlets. We tried to get this extremist group banned from marching completely, when their main aim is undoubtedly to stoke up anti-Islamic sentiment on our streets, unfortunately the MPS did not agree with our concerns.

I am a firm advocate of our right to free speech in the UK. However, this right must be balanced against other human rights. And in this instance it must be balanced against the right of the people of Tower Hamlets to a peaceful home free from people whose sole aim is to create hostility and incite racial hatred.

It's not an accident that the EDL keep coming back to Tower Hamlets time and time again. The borough is home to 71,000 Muslims - 36% of the population. And it's not just that we don't want them to march in our borough because of their deplorable opinions. It is based on experience which has unfortunately shown that their appalling hate preaching tactics inevitably result in inciting serious violence.

Ultimately, the EDL seek to divide our community. A quick glance at leader of the EDL Tommy Robinson's Twitter feed is a taste of this extremist group's agenda. It is centred on vitriolic generalisations about Muslims and Islam. In a recent post he speculated whether the attack on Muswell Hill mosque was "self-inflicted". He is explicit about his 'us and them' attitude, despite the EDL website stating "We are anti-extremist, we are anti-racist, we are anti-fascist, we are anti-Islamist."

Since the tragic death of Lee Rigby in Woolwich in May this year, there have been multiple attacks on mosques including the terrible arson fire that destroyed the Somali Bravanese Community Centre in Barnet in July. Islamophobic attacks have increased and marches such as the EDL's this Saturday are set up to whip up tension which predictably becomes violent.

The right to free speech in the UK comes with responsibilities. The EDL has abused its right to free speech time and again by making outrageous statements against Islam while taking no responsibility for its actions. The people of Tower Hamlets have every right not to be subjected to such intolerance.

Tower Hamlets is a vibrant and diverse borough, I am proud to call it home. Like many areas of our country there are problems, unemployment is high, children are growing up in poverty and families struggle with the ever growing cost of living crisis. The EDL blame "others" for our country's problems and seek to divide us. The solution to the problems we face is not to vilify, blame and scapegoat people or groups of people. The truth is if we want to leave our country in a better condition for our children then we must work together. We must respect difference and celebrate what we have in common, we must focus on the root cause of many of the problems we face - economic inequality.

So we must stand together as one community against the EDL and their supporters who are coming into our borough. This Saturday I will be taking part in a counter- march. I am arguing and will continue arguing until the last minute for a ban as it is a mistake to permit the EDL march. I urge Londoners to show their peaceful dissent from the EDL's narrow inward-looking and divisive views. I will be in Whitechapel on Saturday showing my strong support for unity in Tower Hamlets.

John Biggs is the Labour London Assembly Member for City and East London, covering the City of London, Tower Hamlets, Newham and Barking & Dagenham

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