May 30th, 2011
08:00 AM ET
Photojournalist's Notebook: Confronting Downing Street protesters
No presidential trip abroad would be complete without the requisite protest. Last week, President Obama took off on an eight day, four country tour of Ireland, England, France and Poland.
While in London, I received a request from my producer to shoot some protesters outside of 10 Downing Street. Not knowing the nature of the protest, I quickly packed my camera gear and took off in a taxi to the location.
Typically, in every city in the world, taxi drivers have the pulse of what’s happening in town. My driver asked, “Where to?” “10 Downing Street. There are a bunch of protesters out there, I replied.” He said, “You must mean the jihadis, they’re out there all the time.” At this point, I knew the newsworthiness of the event was probably not going to be great but sometimes that’s the nature of the business.
Upon arriving, there were maybe 50-60 protesters with signs that read, “Islam will dominate the world,” “Muslims rise against crusaders” and “Wanted – Obama pharaoh of our times.” There were other colorfully worded placards generally depicting the rise of Islam and Muslims and the demise of the west and President Obama.
When the presidential motorcade arrived, the protester’s cries intensified. “Obama go to hell,” “Obama you will pay, mujahideen are on their way.” The London Police calmly stood at their posts, as they have undoubtedly seen this act a number of times.
After I shot enough video to effectively capture the moment, I decided to do something I rarely do as a photographer – ask a few questions of one of the protesters. I asked if someone wanted to speak to me one on one. A man was brought forth who had the look of an imam but I can’t confirm his status.
My first question was simple: why are you here protesting? He quickly went into a speech about how America and Great Britain were the oppressors and the Muslims were rising up against the oppressors. No surprise there. Those were very predictable talking points.
The speaker went on further to justify the acts of extremists. “When the oppressor comes to your home and occupies your home and rapes your wife, kills your father, I think they will defend themselves by all means necessary.” He points to Iraq and Afghanistan and says that Muslims have a right to defend themselves.
All of his remarks have one overarching theme, America and Great Britain are the perpetrators of oppression and Muslims are the victims. Furthermore, Muslims are freedom fighters who have the right to use whatever means they see fit to defend themselves.
That brought me to my most important question. Regardless of whether one sees Muslims as victims or not, are Muslims defending themselves in a proper way, according to Islamic law?
He responded by implying that I was pointing fingers and I should look at the causes of 9/11 and 7/7 (the London train bombing). “The Muslims are only returning the bombs that you left in our lands in the first place,” he said.
I continued in my pursuit of an answer. Here’s a short exchange we had.
The gentleman clearly did not know the answer to my question or deliberately avoided it. I believe the latter is true. He later told me that it was not the proper venue to discuss the matter. I wondered if there were any proper venues for him to speak truthfully.
The Koran has clear guidelines for the rules of war. None of them involve killing innocent civilians, women, children, animals or even trees if avoidable. Muslims with only a cursory knowledge of Islam know this to be true.
That is the point I wanted the Downing Street protester to address but it did not fit into his playbook. Perhaps, I have found the problem: maybe he’s operating from the wrong book.
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