Planned Anti-War March Stirs Anger In Britain A Muslim group in Britain says it wants to hold a march in the English town of Wootton Bassett to commemorate civilian casualties of the war in Afghanistan. The town is best known for its ceremonies honoring British troops killed in Afghanistan. British leaders and other Muslim groups say the planned march is unnecessarily provocative.
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Planned Anti-War March Stirs Anger In Britain

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Planned Anti-War March Stirs Anger In Britain

Planned Anti-War March Stirs Anger In Britain

Planned Anti-War March Stirs Anger In Britain

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/122271693/122271728" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Hearses carrying the coffins of six soldiers killed in Afghanistan pass mourners lining High Street in Wootton Bassett, England, on Nov. 10, 2009. The small town has become well known in recent years for its ceremonies honoring British troops killed in the war. Matt Cardy/Getty Images hide caption

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Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Hearses carrying the coffins of six soldiers killed in Afghanistan pass mourners lining High Street in Wootton Bassett, England, on Nov. 10, 2009. The small town has become well known in recent years for its ceremonies honoring British troops killed in the war.

Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Controversy has erupted in Britain over the plans of a Muslim group to hold an anti-war demonstration in the small English town of Wootton Bassett, well known in recent years for its ceremonies honoring British troops killed in Afghanistan.

Wootton Bassett lies on the road between the air base where British military planes carrying the coffins of the fallen touch down and the hospital in Oxford where post-mortems are performed. Townspeople — and, increasingly, others from around the country — routinely turn out to salute and pay tribute to the parade of coffins.

Many Britons reacted with anger and outrage when a group called Islam4UK recently announced that it would hold a march in Wootton Bassett in which fake coffins would be carried representing the civilian causalities in Afghanistan.

Anjem Choudary, a member of Islam4UK, poses Monday in front of the Houses of Parliament in London. The group's plan for an anti-war demonstration in the small English town of Wootton Bassett has sparked outrage among many Britons. Oli Scarff/Getty Images hide caption

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Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Anjem Choudary, a member of Islam4UK, poses Monday in front of the Houses of Parliament in London. The group's plan for an anti-war demonstration in the small English town of Wootton Bassett has sparked outrage among many Britons.

Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Anjem Choudary of Islam4UK says the demonstration is meant as reminder, not an insult.

"We are obviously having a procession. It's in Wootton Bassett, that's correct. But it's not about the people there; it's not against them personally. Rather it is to highlight the real cost of the war in Afghanistan," Choudary says.

Choudary was previously head of Al Mahajiroun, a group that was banned by the government under the British Terrorism Act. But many of its members have now appeared again in the organization Islam4UK. Choudary has a history of courting controversy and not always following through with his plans. He admits the march in Wootton Bassett would be something of a publicity stunt.

"The sad reality of the situation is that if I were to hold it somewhere else it would not have the media attention that it has now," he says.

Many people in Wootton Bassett, like former Mayor Chris Wannell, are appalled at the suggestion of such a march.

"I would like to say that we in Wootton Bassett, we do don't do what we do for any political reason at all. We do it to respect those who have given their lives for our freedom, and also to try and help the families in their grieving process. If this man has any decency about him he will not hold his march through Wootton Bassett," Wannell says.

Wannell is not alone. Prime Minister Gordon Brown called the plans for the march offensive and disgusting. Home Secretary Alan Johnson said he would back any request from police or local government to ban the march.

But the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Sir Hugh Orde, a former chief constable in Northern Ireland, said: "People have the right to march. Others might not like it, but that's it."

More than 500,000 people have joined a Facebook protest against the planned march. But, perhaps more unusually, it has also brought to the forefront several Muslim groups established recently to speak out against Islamist extremism.

Perhaps the most striking group to emerge is called British Muslims for Secular Democracy, or BMSD. Its Web site has clips of a recent protest that gently mocks extremist demonstrators and their slogans.

Tehmina Kazi, BMSD's director, says the establishment of such groups is a major step forward for the Muslim community, which has tended to circle the wagons when attacked in the past. Kazi says if Islam4UK goes ahead with its protest, British Muslims for Secular Democracy will be there, too.

"We are actually writing a letter to Islam4UK at the moment asking them to either cancel their demonstration or at the very least move it to a different location. And failing that, if they do go ahead with their protest anyway, we will be out there counterprotesting with the British flag to show that ordinary Muslims do not agree with Islam4UK and are happy to publicly oppose them," Kazi says.