Monday, 11 October 2010

Leicester, England - no place for the EDL

On Saturday 9 October I was covering a couple of events for Leicester's Everybody's Reading festival. In the morning I visited Belgrave Library where the entertainment journalist and children's author Puneet Bhandal talked about her background and her series of Bollywood themed books. To get the blood pumping and the Bollywood magic wafting through the library at the end of her talk, Puneet taught the small crowed of adults and children some Bollywood dance steps. We danced our way through a whole song and left with smiles on our faces.

A few hours later en route to the second event of the day - A Taste of Somalia, at Highfields Library - my car was brought to a standstill by two hundred thugs. The English Defense League (EDL) were in Leicester to perform a static protest. Perhaps it was their members who had broken through the police lines and were storming across six lanes of traffic on the ring road, towards St Georges retail park and the Highfields area. Highfields is home to a large proportion of the city's Muslim community, many of whom were also outside on the streets, seemingly to defy and defend against any possibility of EDL presence around their mosque.

What I witnessed on the ring road distressed and disgusted me. Angry men wearing the St George cross, running at speed and chanting. Their threatening behaviour included kicking and thumping the cars right beside mine. Innocent individuals and families were in those cars. Scared stiff, they made u-turns over the central reservation and they turned around and drove straight through the stationary traffic, hitting wing mirrors in the rush to get out of there. The cars that were attacked belonged to people who were not white. I'm still struggling to define how it felt to be involved in this event and not be attacked, presumably just because I am white.

Following instructions, I reversed along the pavement and behind two buses, while a line of riot police in front regained control. I admire the job that they did and thank them. I was scared. But my fear was probably nothing compared to those attacked around me during those few minutes. The ring road and the cityscape of my home town had become alien. Certain sections of humanity became hideous beasts.

The One Leicester festival on 10 October was celebrated as a direct response to the visit from the EDL. The streets were rid of anger and hatred. There was nothing to fear. No sirens, no helicopters, no closed roads or marauding idiots. We had Billy Bragg, Egyptian and Bollywood dancing, a Gospel Choir and a Chinese dragon. Leicester was once again the friendly, diverse, fun place we know and love.

I was too frantic, reversing my car and following police advice to take any photos of what I saw on Saturday. Here, however, are some pictures I took at the One Leicester event on Sunday. A true representation of what Leicester is all about.