This was a small but noisy demonstration by a Cardiff based radical Islamic group, protesting against Western crusades against Islam and anti-Islamic legislation, and advocating Sharia law. They attracted a fair bit of attention, with opposition from both right and left.
Numbers from all sides were low, and the biggest group present was undoubtedly the police. Evidence gathering teams videoed the protest and at least three coppers with digital stills cameras attempted to get good photographs of the ‘Muslim extremists’ – although with the women in niqab and most of the men covering their faces, they perhaps struggled to get good pics for the database.
Domestic extremism cops Mark Sully and Paul Mathers from the National Public Order Intelligence Unit hovered, and no doubt special branch was not far away.
Which raises questions on the legitimacy of police surveillance of radical Muslims. Many people may think that the views of this group, alongside the existence of Islamic terrorism, would justify intensive police attention. On the other hand, while holding up banners advocating Sharia law may not make them popular in the mainstream, it isn’t unlawful and it isn’t terrorism. Was is really acceptable that their protest was penned in by solid crowd control barriers, kept well away from public eyes, and was treated by the police as a handy photo line-up?
Neither is it at all clear where the line is drawn. What is extremist and what isn’t? Who decides? Or is it the case that any expression of Muslim anger – protests against the bombing of Gaza, for instance – is also seen as Islamic extremism, and fair game for special branch?