We became aware something was afoot shortly before midday on Saturday when someone walking past Portsmouth's Jami Mosque saw people gathered on the road opposite with placards and flags.
The English Defence League are adept at exploiting fears and hostility towards Muslims, and it was no surprise that they would exploit the burning of remembrance poppies by a tiny group of Muslims in London to create tensions.
What we didn’t forsee was that this would take place in Portsmouth.
The fact that everyone in the mosque and in Portsmouth’s Muslim community regarded the actions of Muslims against Crusades as disgraceful made no odds with them.
Portsmouth’s Muslim community was to be held collectively responsible.
There were about 50 of them. We were informed that a coachload of EDL had travelled down from London.
They proceeded to go off to Fratton Park football ground about 40 minutes before the match. We received a tip off that they were coming back at 5pm. We informed the police of this and proceeded to mobilise people to come down and stand shoulder to shoulder with our Muslim community and defend the Mosque.
The EDL have a track record of attacking Mosques and defiling them with racist graffiti and causing criminal damage.
By 5.30pm there were around 100 EDL and about 100 of us.
It was pointed out by one of the elders at the mosque that the police seemed to bend over backwards to allow the racists their 'democratic right to protest' without prior permission.
At about 6pm things started to turn nasty—it was at this point the mask began to slip. The chants were now exclusively racist or islamophobic. “Allah is a paedo”, “You’re not welcome anymore” along with the inevitable “E E EDL” and a large number of obscenities and the old National Front slogan “There ain’t no black in the Union Jack.”
It also became clear that they were becoming increasingly drunk.
At this point we were subjected to volleys of eggs, beer bottles and lit fireworks being hurled across the police lines. These were actions which clearly had the intention to either blind or maim and are far removed from the right of peaceful protest.
A woman had to leave after being hit with a roof slate.
Although a frightening and distressing experience the vigil was maintained.
Late in the evening Mike Hancock MP attended the vigil outside the mosque along with the council leader Gerald Vernon Jackson. They very clearly took sides to the clear delight of the crowd.
They were beckoned over by the drunken mob to speak to them and were abused and spat at by the crowd.
Eventually the EDL protesters whittled down to about 30, and after receiving assurances that there would be a police presence outside the Mosque all night we marched off. We still numbered about 100.
We left feeling proud that we had stood in unity with Portsmouth’s Muslim community against a bunch of violent drunken racists.
The strength of Portsmouth’s Muslim community in the face of outrageous provocations was a source of considerable respect for the people who attended the vigil. Muslims, Christians, atheists—young and old, black, white and Asian stood side by side.
There has been a tendency in Portsmouth to see actively opposing the EDL as getting on a coach to travel north. Not anymore.
Portsmouth UAF will be holding a street meeting this coming Saturday at 1.30pm at Mountbatten Fountain.
There is a Love Music Hate Racism gig on Tuesday 23 November at 7:30pm at Little Johnny Russels on Albert Road.
In the next few days a unity statement will be launched for people to sign.