George Orwell described Speakers Corner in Hyde Park, London as “one of the minor wonders of the world”, where he listened to “Indian nationalists, temperance reformers, Communists, Trotskyists, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, the Catholic Evidence Society, freethinkers, vegetarians, Mormons, the Salvation Army, the Church Army, and a large variety of plain lunatics”.

Over the years the important topics of the day have been debated and dissected with rigour. However, during the last 20 years, the range of speakers has reduced, with the proportion of religious speakers becoming ever larger. Orwell’s assessment of the lunacy of many who attend has not changed though. In the film Omen 3: The Final Conflict, the adult Damien looks uneasy as he passes through Speakers’ Corner and hears a priest speaking of the Antichrist and seems to recognise Damien. A moment that is probably repeated quite frequently in the minds of some of the less stable visitor.

Omen 3: The Final Conflict

The change in speakers has altered even further over the last ten years with the proportion of Muslim speakers and visitors becoming significantly larger. Over the last five years the dynamic of the Corner altered most significantly. Muslims sought to dominate and create a power base at the Corner. Those who dared to challenge or even worse ridicule Islam were confronted. At best this included accusations of racist, white supremacist or hate preacher and at worst physical threats and intimidation or actual physical violence. Those who have been physically attacked include Sikhs, Jews, Christians, Blacks, Whites, Asians, ex-Muslims and atheists, and of course Muslims of the wrong type, all within the area known as Speakers Corner. The attacks have included death threats, pushing off ladders, punches, kicks, spitting and being chased out the park.

The violent Flump

The other power grab was the presence of the Muslim prayer. Muslims have been discretely praying on their own, at a discrete distance, for many years. However, over the last five years the change was noticeable. The area used for prayer moved from a discrete distance where it bothered no one, to the very centre of the area used for Speakers Corner. The numbers praying collectively together grew, sometimes to as many as 100 people, growing steadily month by month.

Suddenly, rather than just praying directly on the ground or on small individual prayer mats that some would bring, long prayer mats and tarpaulin sheets were rolled out for the prayer. At first these were just rolled out for the time of prayer, but soon they were laid out at the start of the day and left for the full day, clearly marking the territory as their area. Next followed the call to prayer. A completely new experience for the Corner. Again, this would be done right amongst the other Speakers and visitors, at huge volume, with zero respect to the conversations and debates that were occurring around. Anyone who dared to challenge or interrupt the prayer or call to prayer was quickly dealt with.

Yet this encroaching power grab and attempt of controlling and dominating of the Corner ran up against two challenges.

Those who were concerned for the protection of the Corner for all, protection of its rich heritage as a true bastion of free speech, sought to halt this overthrow. Overthrow may seem a dramatic word to use. But how else would you describe the clear attempt to violently control the narrative, to enforce your desire to severely limit actual free speech, enforce your own blasphemy rulings through violence and intimidation, to literally take over the space? There are 13 mosques within a couple of miles from Hyde Park, there are vast open spaces to use if you really cannot travel to one of the mosques. Why would you need to mark out Speakers Corner itself for your prayer? Other than a clear physical assault and power grab on free speech, the enemy of Islam. Continuing the historical pattern of Islam to take territory and control space.

Research and investigations uncovered a little known rule of The Royal Parks, the governing body of parks across central London including Hyde Park, within whose boundaries Speakers Corner lies.

This regulation states that:

The Royal Parks (TRP) does not permit collective acts of worship or other religious observances in the TRP estate, either in their own right or as part of a demonstration, event or other activity. This includes spoken or sung communal prayers or other events that are primarily religious in focus.

The Royal Parks confirmed that the regulation had been firmly in place for a long time and was still relevant. Following discussions with both The Royal Parks and the Metropolitan Police, action was finally taken. The Muslims were finally asked to desist from their collective prayer in the park. Surprisingly they responded and the praying stopped. For a while they laid their prayer mats outside of the Park on the surrounding pavement near one of the main entrances. As this clearly created an obstruction, the Police ensured this also stopped.

This was seen as quite possibly the authorities’ first actual definitive response in seeking to halt the spread and impact of Islamisation in our Society. A response that had been sorely missed across other areas of concern.

Tommy Robinson at Speakers Corner

The second element that halted the takeover was one visit, by one man, Tommy Robinson. Robinson had been watching Speakers Corner for sometime, and was fascinated by its history and the fate it was following in recent years. He was considering a visit to the Corner around the time an Austrian called Martin Sellner, the leader of a right wing political group, was banned from entering the UK to give a speech at the Corner. Robinson grabbed the opportunity to champion free speech and the heritage of Speakers Corner, by stepping in to read Sellner’s speech. Robinson stated that the content of the speech was not what mattered, it was the principle. No one could remember when any person had previously been prevented by the State from giving a speech at Speakers Corner. Robinson stated that “you can ban the speaker, but you will never ban the speech”. So on Sunday 18 March 2018, Robinson visited the Corner to deliver the speech. His appearance attracted a huge level of interest with around five thousand people attending the Corner, its busiest day since the protest against the Iraq war. The more noticeable impact however was the spotlight that his visit shined on Speakers Corner. Love him or loathe him, following his visit, there was a noticeable and sustained increase in both the numbers of visitors and speakers and the subjects being discussed. As PC Steve Barnes, the Corner’s regular police officer stated, Robinson’s visit served to re-invigorate Speakers Corner.

The specific group of radical Muslims who had sought to exert their dominance over the Corner were quite disturbed by the impact of Robinson’s visit. On the day, they literally formed battle lines to defend the invasion of “their patch” and even before Robinson’s arrival were pitching battles, for which a number were subsequently charged and convicted with violent affray. Banning orders from the Corner followed.

The violent one time masters of Speakers Corner were now in retreat. Bruised by the prevention of their dominant enforcing of their collective prayer, by the increasing numbers coming to the Corner to discuss alternative narratives and confidence to challenge the narrative of radical Islam.

Embarrassed by the exposure of their own violence and attacks they implemented a new plan. A plan to seek to expose their challengers as the violent ones. Week after week we saw a narrative played out as they attempted to bait and goad others into violence by full on intimidation and aggression. Standing in people’s faces screaming, pointing fingers in people’s faces, screaming that people were paedophiles (sic) and other such charming claims as “I’m f**king your mum”. Mostly this achieved no reaction, other than derision. A couple of times it achieved the desired outcome, with a responding shove or punch. Both times there followed a hilarious and pantomime like race over to report the matter to the police and then much wailing on-line to point out the clear conclusion that their enemies are the violent ones not them. Though bearing little success, this is a narrative they are still seeking to play out.

Two worrying developments have however now over shadowed these successes. Firstly the collective prayer is creeping back. On Sunday 15 July 2018, numbers were openly praying together. This was clearly planned, with the same bearded individual who had previously brought the mats and tarpaulins again back at the Corner with his trolley and mats.

Anjem Choudary and one of his proscribed organisations

Secondly and more worrying, is the number of known adherents of Anjem Choudary, the well known rabble rousing radical and ISIS supporter who lead the now proscribed al-Muhajirounn, who are now appearing at the Corner. The Corner has previously attracted a number of convicted terrorists and terrorist supporters including one of the July 21st London bombers, one of the London Bridge attackers and Mohammed Hamid (who called himself Osama bin London). Two followers, Ricardo McFarlane and Sulayman have been coming to the Corner for some weeks now, but have recently been joined by a number of other faces that were active members of Anjem Choudary’s variously named groups that evolved out from al-Muhajirounn. Though undoubtedly they are all under different levels of surveillance, their increasing presence at Speakers Corner is of real concern, not least as it now also provides them with a window to the word via YouTube.

Writing about free speech, politics and current affairs.