london diary

february 2006


my london diary

several thousand british muslims turned up outside the danish embassy around midday on saturday 4 feb to protest peacefully about the publication of cartoons by a danish newspaper some months ago, following their republication in a number of other newspapers around europe and on the internet. although i understand their outrage, and support their right to protest, the world-wide reactions have seemed excessive, with violence and injuries as well as lurid threats of death and atrocities presenting a very negative image of islam.

to the credit of british muslims, this demonstration was peaceful and restrained, with official placards provided by organisers hizb ut-tahrir, britain saying things such as 'we do not fear debate or criticism - but no one likes abuse', 'islam says - don't insult other peoples religions' and 'europe lacks respect for others', or simply praising the prophet, although some of the speeches sounded rather more inflammatory. stewards (and of course the police) generally kept everyone well under order, as well as making sensible photography virtually impossible.

the problem is i think not that "europe lacks respect" but that our tradition is a secular liberal one which respects and upholds freedom of speech and opinion (our blasphemy laws, which should have been repealed long ago, are seldom invoked.) there are many things said and written that i find offensive (including several of the cartoons at issue) and you and i have the right to state our objections, to debate or criticize and even to stop eating danish butter - but not to stir up hatred or issue death threats. despite some press reports, this demonstration was generally well-ordered, and i saw none of the placards which have led to calls for people to be prosecuted.
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meanwhile, a short distance away, a demonstration that perhaps should have attracted rather more support from the muslim community was taking place opposite the iranian embassy. perhaps 50 people had gathered there to protest against human rights abuses in the islamic republic of iran, and to support workers there who have no right to strike or organise under iran's draconian labour law.

in jan 2004 workers staging a sit-in at the khatoon abad copper plant were attacked by riot police, with four killed and many more injured. recently, bus workers in tehran have been arrested for planning and carrying out strike action. according to amnesty international, around 500 are still in jail, without charges being made or access to lawyers. some of them have been beaten in prison, and their wives and children also beaten in raids on their homes.

there are many more abuses of human rights being committed under the name of law in iran including torture, murder and public executions (even of minors) for offences including 'un-islamic behaviour'. given the amount of news coverage on iran at the moment over uranium enrichment, it is perhaps surprising that other stories from iran - such as these - have not attracted more attention. and since most of those who are suffering are muslim, i'm suprised at the apparent lack of solidarity from the community in britain.
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i left for a late lunch, then went on to canary wharf, where i had things to do. although it was a very dull day i took a few pictures before catching the docklands light railway to bank and walking through the empty city to the museum of london on london wall.
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at the museum of london was an event i had a personal interest in, the opening of a foyer display 'queer is here'. i'd provided the dozen images used on the front of the large display panel along with the general text on the show, and there is also a screen beside it showing more of my images taken at london gay pride parades from 1993-2002. in ten years of pride i took perhaps 5,000 images, and the display shows around 40 of the best of them. There are a few on this site already (and some from later years) but i've put the rest here for anyone who can't get to see the show.

the exhibition was opened by peter tatchell, who i've photographed a few times over the years, and was enlivened by a spirited performance from the london gay mens chorus. after the month at the museum of london the display will tour to libraries etc in London and possibly elsewhere around the country.
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on ashura day, the 10th day of the first month (muharram) of the islamic calendar, shi'ite muslims take part in a procession to commemorate the martyrdom of hussain, grandson of the prophet, at kerbala in 680 (61 AH). hussain, along with seventy two men and their women and children were surrounded by an army of around thirty thousand. rather than surrender they fought for several hours until their inevitable death.

hussain and his followers stood for freedom, justice and equality as embodied in the message of the prophet, and against the powerful who wanted to take power from the family of the prophet. one of the banners in the procession quooted his words "a faithful person has not alternative but
accept death. Death to me is nothing but salvation and living with the tyrant is but humiliation

a leaflet distributed at the procession reminded us of hussain's example and the need to stand for the justice and freedom for which he died. "we are not to allow extremists to misuse religion and justify their crimes in its name."
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saturday i was up early on my way to a meeting at three mills, bromley-by-bow. these mills are almost all that will be left standing in this area of the lea valley by the development for the london olympics and a huge growth in housing. if you want to see the lower lea valley, you'd better get down there soon before it all disappears. the plans are not so much regeneration but more a total replacement.

i arrived early so i could take a short walk and a few pictures, and after lunch was able to take some pictures from the upper floors of the mill owners house. the whole area is one that played an important part in the development of many industries, and is littered with sites of interest to industrial archaeologists, while buried beneath these are doubtless important remains from medieval and earlier times. an important part of our heritage and all likely to be bulldozed with at most a token report being made.

i first visited the lea valley in the 1980s. you can see a few of my pictures from it on my unfinished site river lee - lee valley, although this covers a rather wider area than the olympic site. there are also some pictures from the area elsewhere on this site - use the search box.
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meanwhile, back in trafalgar square, around ten thousand people, mainly british muslims, had gathered in a rally organised by the muslim council of britain to demonstrate they were united against xenophobia. as well as showing their disapproval of those cartoons, they were also determined to disassociate themselves from more extreme muslim groups.

it was a gathering of decent people, behaving decently, listening to decent speakers speaking decently, carrying only the approved decent placards, overwhelmingly decent. somehow it hardly seemed a real demonstration.
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but i had a date with eros, and wandered along to picadilly circus where st valentine was being honoured with a gathering by o-i-l, operation infinite love. "in response to the growth of confusion and fear in the world... we have decided to send love and healing to all the beings in this world, many of whom are suffering today."

this is the third such annual event, and also carried the point that you didn't need to buy expensive gifts, giving love was what mattered. after some highly spirited samba from the spirits of resistance everyone present made a large cirle to "send love out from the bottom of our hearts to the whole world and all the beings upon her". then the sound system started up and everyone was dancing.
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perhaps 15,000 muslims were in trafalgar square for the rally at the start of the demonstration called by the muslim action committee. as well as protesting against the publication of the cartoons, they were also publicising a 'proclamation of global civility'. its key points are the recognition of human dignity as a fundamental right, the need to good manners and etiquette in serious debate, a desire to avoid irresponsible behaviour and to underline the significance of mutual respect for a harmonious co-existence.

the first of these principles is of course included in the preamble to the universal declaration of human rights, adopted and proclaimed by the united nations general assembly resolution 217 of 10 december 1948. that declaration also contains a number of important safeguards such as 'the right to freedom of opinion and expression' and states 'in the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

it is a declaration that has played an important role in the development of the world that we know, although there are still many countries where a great deal still needs to be done to make these principles a reality.

few of the speeches were in english, but many were delivered with extreme fervour, and the many stewards led the crowd in much chanting and raising of arms to demonstrate their feelings. at times the stewards also remonstrated with some of the demonstrators who were in some way not behaving as they thought they should, and also moved photographers away from them and other people.

walking through the crowds, away from the stewards i got a much more welcoming approach from many of those present, several times being asked if i would photograph people. i left as the march was about to start, first photographing some of the marchers at prayers.
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from there i took the tube and dlr out to pudding mill lane on stratford marsh. once a flourishing industrial area, it has suffered from the general decline of british industry and also the considerable inducements for new development in adjoining docklands. added to this in recent years is the impact of a new railway through the area and olympic blight, as the area is now faces a total remodelling for the london 2012 olympics. (see above)

it is still an intriguing area, where a few yards can take you from wilderness to industrial wasteland, from dereliction to busy workshops (though most were closed on a saturday afternoon.) parts are visibly closing down, with compulsory purchase orders hanging on lamposts, some footpaths closed and factories demolished.

there was one small sign of a kind of regeneration. the unusual lock between the bow back river and waterworks river at blaker road, for many years derelict, at last seems to have been replaced. the pictures from this are on my river lea site.
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around ten thousand british shia and sunni muslims marched together through london on saturday 25th in an unusual gesture of solidarity following the bombing of the mosque at sammara in iraq, one of the holiest of muslim shrines, containing the tombs of the 8th and 9th gradsons of muhammed.

the march was led by women and children, with the men following behind. placards and chanting called for an end to violence, denouncing the wahhabis and al-qaeda. many also carried the iraqi flag in its pan-arab colors of black, white, red, and green

starting from hyde park, the march went down park lane and picadilly to end in a rally in trafalgar square. both the plinth and the square below were crowded with demonstrators.

despite the seriousness of the outrage at samarra, the people on the march were peaceful and good-natured, protesting against violence and against the muslim fundamentalism that aims to create a "taliban-like extremist state in iraq."
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we got to trafalgar square well ahead of the march so as to be sure to get near the platform. when we arrived, there was a group of people forming a circle around the column, apparently a live event for some kind of alternate reality game called perplex city, a kind of "story/game/puzzle hybrid" that involves you in a global treasure hunt and buying puzzles cards from london-based company mind candy. should you chance upon the receda cube, there are people who would like to know. or you could just hide it somewhere else!

i wonder why these people can't find anything more useful to do with their lives, but as i'm there i take a few pictures.




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Defend the Honour of the Prophet

Danish Embassy, London, 4 Feb, 2006
© 2006, Peter Marshall.
Speaker addressing crowd penned in on the pavement at the official demonstration opposite the embassy.

© 2006, Peter Marshall.
Some demonstrators wanted to continue after the official end of the demonstration, but were urged to go home.
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Support Workers in Iran!

Iranian Embassy, London, 4 Feb 2006
© 2006, Peter Marshall. Protestors hold posters about public executions, torture and imprisonment of workers opposite Iran's London Embassy in Kensington.
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Queer is Here

Museum of London, Jan 14, 2006

© 2006, Peter Marshall.
London Gay Mens Chorus at the opening of 'Queer is Here' at the Museum of London.

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Gay Pride parade in Piccadilly, June 1994. Picture by Peter Marshall from 'Ten Years of Pride' , part of the 'Queer is Here' exhibition at the Museum of London.
full set of pictures used in the show.


Ashura Day Procession

Marble Arch, London, 9 Feb, 2006
© 2006, Peter Marshal. Ashura Day
Islamic art in the procession
© 2006, Peter Marshal. Ashura Day   

© 2006, Peter Marshal. Ashura Day
Ashura Day procession at Lancaster Gate, London, 9 Feb, 2006

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Three Mills, Bromley-by-Bow

lower lea valley, london, 11 feb 2006
Three Mills, Bromley-by-Bow. © Peter Marshall, 2006Three Mills, Bromley-by-Bow, one of the few buildings in the area probably not directly threatened by the wholesale redevelopment for the 2012 London Olympics.
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United Against Xenophobia

Trafalgar Square, london, 11 feb 2006
United Against Xenophobia. © Peter Marshall, 2006
Muslims protest against incitement in Trafalgar Square.
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Reclaim Love 3

Operation Infinite Love, Eros, Picadilly Circus, London, 11 Feb 2006
Operation Infinite Love, Reclaim Love 3 © Peter Marshall, 2006
Dancing in the shadow of Eros, Piccadilly Circus, London
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Proclamation for Global Civility

Muslim Action Committee, Tragalgar Square, London 18 Feb, 2006

Proclamation for Global Civility. © 2006, Peter Marshall

Muslim demonstrators pack Trafalgar Square for another rally about the cartoons of the Prophet.

Proclamation for Global Civility. © 2006, Peter Marshall
Vanessa Redgrave was one of the few to speak in English.
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Stratford Marsh

River Lea, Stratford, London. Feb 18, 2006
City Mill River, Stratford © 2006, Peter MarshallCity Mill River, Stratford, London

Stratford, London. ©2006, Peter Marshall
City Mill River towpath passing under Northern Outfall sewer (The Greenway), Stratford, London
more pictures on my River Lea site

Muslims Unite Against the Samarra Bombing

Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square, London, 25 February, 2006

Muslims oppose Samarra bombing. © 2006, Peter Marshall
British Muslims Stand United Against Terrorism. On the march in Park Lane
Muslims oppose Samarra bombing. © 2006, Peter Marshall
Demonstrators at Trafalgar Square
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Purplex City - Live Event

Trafalgar Square, London, Feb 25, 2006
Purplex City Live Event  © 2006, Peter Marshall
It appears to be a slightly more active version of Su Doku
Purplex City Live Event  © 2006, Peter Marshall
And no, I can't see any point in it either.


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