So I woke at 4am to get ready for my long day, anticipation growing every minute as I got closer to getting on a train towards Luton. I kept thinking to myself, what am I doing? I feel like I’m willingly walking in to the belly of the beast, and have no idea if I’ll get back home tonight in one piece! Never the less I carried on – water bottle: check, phone fully charged: check, inhaler and other medication: check, umbrella which can be used for self defence as well as protection from rain: check. I was ready.
My journey towards Luton seemed to be full of obstacles; I missed my first train because I was collecting my tickets, there were tube line closures, and an hour delay on the train due to a person committing suicide. It honestly felt like God didn’t want me going, like what I was doing was going to get me harmed, but I stuck it out and got to Luton at about 11 -11.30am with Jane and Ed.
As we drove into Airport Way, we noticed the road ahead was partially closed due an ‘incident’, as we got closer, we noticed lots of coaches on one side, shock horror the EDL coaches were being stopped and checked. We later found out that the police found weapons and drugs on their coaches; I wonder where the EDL’s quote of being a non-violent organisation went?
Anyway more of that later, back to driving in to Luton.
I have never in my life seen so many police men, women, vans, cars, bikes and horses. My heart sank and I honestly believed at that moment, that I had made the biggest mistake of my life. Other than the police, there was barely anyone else on the streets, it seemed like we entered some sort of police practice procedure or a quarantine zone. The town was deserted. We parked our car and decided to head in to the Mall. As we wandered around, both Jane and I realised we needed the bathroom, as we headed in to the mall to find a bathroom, we heard a mega phone, we both looked at each other, please God don’t let that be the EDL! Only then did we realise it was the UAF on route, with a few police to guide them at their sides. We ran to the bathroom, hoping we’d still catch the march when we got out; luckily we caught the end of it.
As we walked around the mall, it seemed as if we were the last people left on earth, the majority of the shops were closed and those that were open were near enough empty. What I did find amusing was seeing McDonalds with bouncer style security guards and hearing about Wilkinson with bouncer style security guards too! I mean, those were the last two shops I expected there to be that kind of security!
Once we met up with Aoife we decided to head out to the town centre, the first thing I noticed were these ‘HUGE!’ metal fences, which I realised were there to contain the EDL. On the other side of the town centre stretch, was where the UAF’s demo was held, from where we were standing we could hear some music, the police were around them, but it didn’t seem like they were in any sort of formation. Jane decided she wanted some photos, so ran up to get some.
We waited for her outside the Town Hall, it was a beautiful building, I really wanted to have a chance to have a look around it, but knew I was here for other reasons. Hopefully I’d get chance to come back to Luton to have a proper look around. We decided that once Jane was back we’d walk around to where the EDL march would stop.
As we stood waiting for the EDL, the air seemed to be tense with anticipation. The press were in front of us setting up and making sure they had everything ready. I noticed they were interviewing the MP of Luton and some locals. All of a sudden a lady from the BBC Asian Network approached me and asked if she could get my views. Taken aback a bit I obliged. It was an interesting experience; I explained my feelings and thankfully got a plug in for USoB. She seemed quite interested in USoB, I had a chance to explain USoB’s ethos and what we were all about, handed her my business card and ended my interview. She asked if we could catch up afterwards to do a second interview. I, of course said yes. I mean who wouldn’t want to be on air TWICE and have the chance to some free publicity?
After the lady went, Aoife and I received an offer to go in to the Town Hall and view the demo from there, I personally wanted to stay down on the street, I came to be part of this, see it first hand, experience it first hand, I didn’t want to feel like I came here for nothing and hide away in a building. I was about to say no, when a female police officer came up to me and Aoife and told us that the EDL were on their way and it was best that we left now and try to not be seen by them.
THIS, this worried me! Were we not safe in our own country? We were stood with our backs to the wall, couple of feet away from a line of police officers, behind a metal fence as well as a line of press; we had a good distance from where the EDL would be passing. Was it that unsafe for a Muslim Asian woman in hijab and a woman in a wheel chair to be there? The EDL constantly spout they are ‘non-racist’, ‘non-violent’ and ‘not against all Muslims’. Yet here was a police officer so concerned for our safety that she wanted us to leave and not be seen! We of course left and kindly took up the offer to watch from the Town Hall.
On one side of the Town Hall we could see the UAF demonstration and on the other the EDL demonstration. Sitting in the Town Hall, Aoife and I felt a bit out of the loop, but were lucky enough to meet some of Luton’s councillors, MEP’s and Luton’s Mayor. It was interesting speaking to them, hearing their views and how they felt about the day’s events. The line we kept hearing, keeps ringing in my ears ‘This is not our Luton, we are not like this, we’re normally happy to live alongside one another, why have the EDL brought this on to us?” It seems like the EDL don’t seem to understand that no one wants them!
While in the Town Hall, we watched the increasingly boring and repetitive speeches of the EDL. Two hours later I was surprised there were still any EDL members there! It seemed like the already small numbers of the EDL march were decreasing, and decreasing fast.
Both Aoife and I were ‘Tweeting’ away, which is quite a new experience for me. While ‘Tweeting’ I was also checking what other people were saying, when I noticed a tweet that didn’t look right, it read something along the lines of “Bury Park Mosque been attacked, riot breaking out, Police have reported”, now considering where we were, both Aoife and I thought it was strange, we would have heard this about already, but hadn’t, this can’t of been a legitimate police claim! We quickly headed towards where the councillors were and showed them the tweet, they quickly got on the phone to the control centre and checked, we were right, the tweet had been sent to stir up trouble. I quickly tweeted for people to ignore it, it was a rumour and it was untrue! It was the most excitement Aoife and I had all day!
Once the EDL demo disappeared, we all met up again and decided to head to Bury Park. We arrived about 10 minutes after about 100 UAF joined them and tried to stir trouble, the police were in a line formation and the mediators had linked arms. It looked like trouble may be brewing, but thankfully the mediators did a fantastic job of calming the local Muslims down. We stayed at Bury Park for about an hour and chatted to some of the local Muslims and other locals that were there.
The BBC Asian Network reporter caught up with me at Bury Park as well, she asked if she could do a follow up interview and I obliged. It was good to get an informed view across after experiencing first hand what the EDL demos were like. After a while the police dispersed and so did the crowd. We all decided to get some food, it had been a long day and we all started feeling hungry and tired. We headed back to the Mall to see if any food places were open.
As we sat down outside one of the food places in the Mall, Ed noticed some newsletter’s on the table and started flicking through them, only after looking at them for a few moments did we realise they were from ‘Christian Voice’, in my distaste, I threw one across the table and we all started discussing how much we loathed them and how, in my view, there was not one ounce of Christianity in Stephen Green, unknown to us at this point we were sitting next to him! This, we only discovered after a friend of ours from Luton, who had helped us great deal on the day. He then started having a discussion with them. The discussion quickly became heated, and only confirmed my thoughts of Stephen Green. I disliked him before, but I loath him now. Standing in front of me were two men who called themselves Christian, sadly I could only call one of these men a true Christian through and through, and that was the man that helped us during the day. Mr Green showed no Christian compassion or values, and seemed to me to be everything which Christianity was against.
I will always remember my first ever experience of Luton, and only wish it was under better circumstances. I truly admire the people of Luton for putting up with what they did on Saturday 5th February 2011. All the people I met from Luton on the day were very welcoming and I thank them for that. I only hope I can revisit Luton on better conditions and meet all the lovely people I met, again.