If young British Muslims had any doubts that they are singled out for special treatment in the land of their birth, the punishments being meted out to those who took part in last year's London demonstrations against Israel's war on Gaza will have dispelled them. The protests near the Israeli embassy at the height of the onslaught were angry: bottles and stones were thrown, a Starbucks was trashed and the police employed unusually violent tactics, even by the standards of other recent confrontations, such as the G20 protests.
But a year later, it turns out that it's the sentences that are truly exceptional. Of 119 people arrested, 78 have been charged, all but two of them young Muslims (most between the ages of 16 and 19), according to Manchester University's Joanna Gilmore, even though such figures in no way reflect the mix of those who took part. In the past few weeks, 15 have been convicted, mostly of violent disorder, and jailed for between eight months and two-and-a-half years – having switched to guilty pleas to avoid heavier terms. Another nine are up to be sentenced tomorrow.
The severity of the charges and sentencing goes far beyond the official response to any other recent anti-war demonstration, or even the violent stop the City protests a decade ago. So do the arrests, many of them carried out months after the event in dawn raids by dozens of police officers, who smashed down doors and handcuffed family members as if they were suspected terrorists. Naturally, none of the more than 30 complaints about police violence were upheld, even where video evidence was available.