How to you dismantle a potential violent situation? That is what members of a mosque in York, England had to ask themselves after they became the focus of the far-right English Defense League over the weekend. Following the brutal murder in Woolwich of a solider by extremists, the EDL responded by calling for protests across the country over the past week.
The Guardian reports that half a dozen people arrived for the protest, which was organized online; a St. George's flag was nailed to the fence around the mosque. The response of the mosque wasn't what you might expect. Instead of shuttering their doors and, they went outside and invited protesters to join them in tea and crumpets.
Prior to the meeting, the two groups could not have seen one another more differently. To the EDL, the mosque and its members represented a form of extremism that they do not understand. Leanne Staven, who turned up to protest, said that "We need a voice. I think white British who have any concerns feel we can't speak freely. Change has been coming for a long time and in light of what happened to that soldier in Woolwich there have to be restrictions on people learning extremist behavior and it has to stop."
Photo of young mosque member: via Ann Czernik for the Guardian
Members of the mosque invited the protesters into the mosque to join them in a dialogue about extremism. What they discovered is that they both felt the same way: any form of extremist violence is wrong. The president of the York mosque responded that "Under the banner of Islam there are very different politics: democratic politics, the far right, left, central, all over. You can't target a whole community for what one or two people have done. What they've done in London is for their own reasons but there's no reasoning behind it from an Islamic point of view."
After the groups enjoyed tea and some custard creams, they partook in an impromptu football match. Proof positive that talking out your differences beats shouting about them any day of the week. This is what we need. More dialogue, more understanding, and more meetings between people who believe they have nothing in common. Through this we will hopefully all understand that we have much more in common than we can even possibly imagine.