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Cablegate: Welsh Muslim Community Skillfully Defuses

DE RUEHLO #2416/01 2991347
R 261347Z OCT 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 LONDON 002416


E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/22/2019


Classified By: Political Counselor Robin Quinville for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C/NF) Summary and Comment: A protest by a far-right anti-Muslim group in Swansea, Wales passed without violence on October 17, largely due to careful interfaith and intra-Muslim community planning. Wales' small size (three million people, of whom about one percent are Muslims) has made it relatively easy for Muslim, Christian, and government leaders to establish close personal relationships. In times of crisis, these relationships have enabled the Welsh to defuse potential conflicts. The Welsh model of intercommunal relationships may contain lessons for other communities to mitigate inter-religious tensions. End Summary and Comment.

Anti-Muslim Group Protests Muslim Presence in Wales --------------------------------------------- ------

2. (C/NF) The Welsh Defence League (WDL), a far-right group opposed to the growing presence of Muslims in Wales, organized a demonstration on October 17 in central Swansea. Approximately 60 demonstrators participated. A counter-demonstration of approximately 200 people faced off against the WDL. The protest came several weeks after a similar event in Birmingham, England on September 5th (see reftel) had resulted in violent clashes. Unlike in Birmingham, no violence was reported. Aled Edwards, a prominent Christian minister who leads an interfaith group, and another clergyman put themselves between the WDL protesters and the counter-demonstrators to try to discourage a violent clash. He told PolOff that there was no violence, but that at one point the WDL made an abortive attempt to charge the counter-demonstrators, who had occupied the square where the WDL had originally planned to demonstrate. Edwards said that for about 20 minutes he was "extremely scared" as he stood between the two groups, with the WDL protesters performing Nazi salutes.

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Muslim and Christian Communities Prepared Carefully --------------------------------------------- ------

3. (C/NF) Saleem Kidwai, Director of the Muslim Council of Wales (MCW), an umbrella organization representing many Welsh Muslims, told Poloff that the MCW convened extensive meetings within the Muslim community in preparation for the WDL event. Kidwai said many members in the community initially wanted to stage a massive counter-event that would "hit the WDL twice for every time it hit us." Kidwai and other leaders of the community counseled against a confrontational approach. He told Poloff that by the "fifth or sixth" preparatory meeting, the Muslim community had cooled off from their initial reaction and were all agreed that the best policy was to avoid any violence. In fact, Kidwai said the main problem was to ensure that non-Muslim anti-fascist groups opposed to the WDL maintained a non-violent stance. Kidwai told Poloff that he had consulted extensively with Edwards and other clergymen as well, and coordinated their presence as a layer of protection against violence. This is in contrast to the events in Birmingham, where the head of Birmingham's central mosque reportedly rebuffed police requests to him to discourage counter-demonstrations.

4. (C/NF) Edwards also told Poloff that he and other clergy had coordinated extensively with Kidwai and the MCW to prepare for a (later cancelled follow-up protest the WDL scheduled for October 24 to protest the conversion of a church into a mosque in Newport. (Note: Kidwai told Poloff that the church sold its building to a group of Muslims in order to move into a larger facility. The protest is also against the removal of a World War II memorial in front of the church, but Kidwai said the memorial is simply being moved to the new church location. End Note.) Edwards and Kidwai decided that the best policy would be to hold non-violent events the day before and after the WDL protest and let the police protect the mosque. Edwards told Poloff on October 20 that the WDL had canceled the event, but Kidwai told Poloff on October 21 that they would proceed with the vigil regardless. Media have subsequently reported that the Friday vigil occured but that the Saturday protest was indeed cancelled.

Muslim-Christian-Government Cooperation Key -------------------------------------------

5. (C/NF) Both Kidwai and Edwards praised the level of cooperation between the Christian and Muslim communities in Wales. They noted that First Minister Rhodri Morgan deserves much of the credit, because he created an interfaith council in the wake of September 11. According to both Kidwai and Edwards, before that time, Muslim, Christian, and other faith LONDON 00002416 002 OF 002 leaders did not "even know each other's phone numbers." Now they hold meetings twice a year, and the increased communication has been crucial to defusing potential crises. Both independently told Poloff the story of when a church newsletter in Wales printed the Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed several years ago. The leaders of the various communities called each other and top government officials, made necessary apologies and explanations, and then the leaders were able to go back to their communities and calm them before tensions could rise. Both sides credit the small size of Wales and the ease of access to senior government officials as key factors that have enabled them to quickly and directly deal with potential crises before they escalated.

6. (C/NF) Edwards and Kidwai both acknowledged that problems may lurk under the surface. Edwards said that this week he had received a harsh complaint from a Welsh church that he was going too far in his outreach to Muslims. Kidwai worries that radicalized Muslims from England might influence his peaceful, non-radicalized population. Neither Kidwai nor Edwards is complacent, but for right now both sides are pleased with their cooperation and are optimistic that Muslims in Wales will continue living peacefully and in good relations with their non-Muslim neighbors. Visit London's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX

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