Brick Lane in East London has come to represent the best of multi-cultural London, once a Bangladeshi enclave it now also boasts some of the city’s finest nightlife. To Anjem Choudary, a radical Muslim preacher, it’s “a den of iniquity.”
Chaudary, the manager of the Sharia Court of the UK, led a march through the district demanding an end to alcohol sales. A group of about 60 men and women in burkas delivered leaflets warning shopkeepers and restaurateurs they faced 40 lashes if they continued to sell alcoholic beverages.
“Alcohol has attracted nightclubs and raves and a whole host of other vices which tarnish the area. You have druggies and prostitutes,” he told The Daily Beast. “As Muslims, we believe we should be governed by Sharia because that would get rid of these and many other things including gambling, usury, and promiscuity.”
During the boisterous march on Friday, protestors carried signs that read “Save Lives—don’t drink or sell alcohol” and “Islam is the perfect system for all mankind.” Using a loudhailer, Chaudary bellowed: “Our message to the shops here, all of the businesses is to fear Allah, fear God. Give up the sale of alcohol.”
A gang of Islamic vigilantes has already admitted ++carrying out “Muslim patrols”++ in the area, where Londoners flock to the popular curry houses and bars. Three men pleaded guilty to assaulting or threatening to kill non-believers who were drinking in the street.
Chaudary said they should be applauded for their actions not demonized in the British courts and media. “The things that they were addressing—thuggish behavior and prostitution are prohibited under Islam and, were we living under Sharia, then these things could be changed forcefully. Now, I did speak to them after they did what they did and said look certain things cannot be changed by force. But I don’t think that they did anything wrong,” he said.
“If you look at what they said ok their words were a little bit harsh but surely football stadiums witness this on a weekly basis. I think, personally, they are doing a service to society, and I think they should be patted on the back for dealing with problems that the police and local authorities should be dealing with.”
In a separate attack in the same neighborhood, American student Francesco Hounye, 22, was beaten and kicked by a group of Asian men who saw him drinking in the street. Three men have been charged with carrying out the attack which left the Florida resident with a chipped tooth and permanent scarring.
In the 1980s and early 1990s Brick Lane and Whitechapel were dominated by predominantly Bangladeshi and South Asian communities, but the plethora of good, affordable Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants transformed the area into a hub that attracts tourists and a multi-ethnic parade of revelers from all over London. An ever-increasing number of hip bars, clubs have also sprung up in the area.
Abu Baraa, an Islamic preacher who organized Friday’s rally, said Muslim shopkeepers and curryhouse owners were failing to uphold the values of their religion. In a video uploaded to YouTube, he said: “Unfortunately what we have in the Muslim community is some people who decided to sell alcohol in the off-licenses and they are the cause of all of our communities problems because of them people are getting drunk, because of them people are urinating in the street because of them bottles are being smashed. There are so many problems in society because of alcohol.”
Baraa, who describes himself as a follower of the banned radical preacher Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, said: “The Muslims should be teaching our neighbors what is right and what is wrong.”
The Muslim protestors were confronted by a small group of campaigners calling themselves Britain First. Paul Golding, a former member of the British National Party, is the leader of the group which he describes as “the SAS of right-wing politics.”
He accused Chaudary of links to many of Britain’s terrorist plots. “He’s got blood on his hands,” he said. “He was the man who radicalized the killers of Lee Rigby. He is allowed to wander our streets calling for Sharia, calling for Islam. The man is a disgrace.”
Chaudary has been pictured with Michael Adebolajo the man accused of trying to behead Rigby, a British soldier, but he denies that he was responsible for his turn to extremism. “The biggest radicalizing factor isn’t me, it’s the British foreign policy,” he said.