East End United

The march from Stepney Green to Altab Ali park – clergy leading the march included (l to r) Revd Adam Atkinson (Contextual Theology Centre Senior Tutor), Fr Alan Green (Area Dean of Tower Hamlets – in the biretta)  and the Revd Angus Ritchie (Centre Director)

How does a neighbourhood respond when the forces of bigotry and division come to town? The English Defence League (EDL) threatened to come to Tower Hamlets on Sunday – bringing an all-too-familiar blend of and anti-Muslim vitriol and intimidation.

The EDL had picked this date to come to Tower Hamlets, and then discovered a controversial Islamic conference was to be on the same date, at the Troxy (just round the corner from the Royal Foundation of St Katharine, the home of the Jellicoe Community). This became the focus of their action – until Tower Hamlets Council exerted pressure on the Troxy to cancel the event.

The EDL claimed victory, and called their Sunday demo off – but earlier in the week a number of their members were in town, insulting local Muslims and spreading tension and anger.

The community’s reaction? A demonstration with over 2000 local people – and speakers from local churches and mosques, Jewish organisations and trade unions presenting a united front against the EDL. Some of the political speakers felt the need to score points against each other – a regrettable decision on a day which was about stressing what East End residents have in common, not the things which divide them.

And how did it feel? Sometimes rowdy and raw, but almost uniformly peaceful – and in a community where the EDL’s activities have provoked rumours, fear and mistrust, a really important declaration that people of all faiths and backgrounds are willing to turn out to stand up for one another.

The Revd Adam Atkinson and Angus Ritchie (who supervise the Jellicoe Interns in Shadwell) spoke at the rally and Jellicoe intern Ian Bhullar played an important role in organising the Christian turnout. All three are involved in the round-the-year organising that brings Tower Hamlets’ faiths together around issues of common concern. It’s that ongoing work which builds the trust and commitment which was counted for so much on Sunday. That provided an inspiration, and also a challenge – to redouble the organising work so that the people of Tower Hamlets are even more united in trust and hope.

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