UK Legoland closes for weekend after 'right-wing' threats

Far-right nationalists object to Muslim group that hired the theme park for a private event

Legoland theme park in Windsor, to the west of London, has canceled a Muslim "family fun day" after receiving threats.
Graham Barclay/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The Legoland theme park in Britain will close its hotel this weekend after far-right extremists issued threats over a planned Muslim “family fun day,” which has also been canceled, Legoland Windsor and the group that organized the event, told Al Jazeera on Thursday.

The London-based Muslim Research and Development Foundation (MRDF) had reserved the park in Windsor, just west of London, and its joined hotel for a private event on March 8 to 9, before the park was set to open to the public for the season on March 14. But Legoland canceled the event last week due to threatening phone calls, emails and social media posts from far-right groups.

“Unfortunately, the Legoland Windsor Resort has had to close the hotel on (Saturday and Sunday) after threats from right-wing groups made against the Resort,” Legoland said. “Sadly, it is our belief that deliberate misinformation fueled by a small group with a clear agenda was designed expressly to achieve this outcome,” the group said in a release last week.

Although more than 4,000 people had already purchased their tickets before the event was canceled, the MRDF told Al Jazeera that it supported Legoland's decision to cancel the event out of concern for the safety of staff and patrons.

“We’re appalled that an event that wasn’t just for Muslims, that was for all races and religions, has been pulled due to threats from right-wing activists — terrorists, really,” a trustee of the group, Jamil Rashid, said, adding that members of his group and of Legoland staff had received death threats. “This wasn’t an ideological event. It was for families to enjoy themselves. We’re devastated these people have threatened violence against children and families.”

Thames Valley police are investigating the threats but have not released any details about their source or the nature of the threats.

In a statement, Legoland stopped short of naming the group responsible for the actual threats. A later statement, however, referenced a campaign by the English Defense League (EDL), a far-right nationalist group that calls the MRDF a “discriminatory group led by a notorious hate-preacher,” to have the event shut down.

“We have ... confirmed to all members of the EDL who have contacted us relentlessly and aggressively online and via the telephone that we would also hire the park to them, should they wish to have a private hire event with us,” Legoland said.

The EDL, which seeks to erode the influence of Islam in the U.K., denied allegations that it supported violent action in a post to their website.

On Feb. 17, the EDL made this statement: “We call on Legoland Windsor Resort to cancel this even which is being organized by a known hate-preacher, and should it not be canceled, Legoland management can count on patriots showing up on their grounds in protest.”

The MRDF describes itself as a foundation that “strives to articulate Islam in a modern context and address the unique situation and challenges faced by Muslims in the West.” The group has been a registered U.K. charity since 2007.

MRDF has come under fire for its own controversial stances. The group’s leader, Haitham al-Haddad, has made anti-gay statements in the past. In a March 2012 article for Islam 21c, the MRDF’s online publication, Haddad urged Muslims to “combat the scourge of homosexuality,” which he also referred to as a “criminal act.”

Rashid, the MRDF trustee, said this week's threats were just the latest incident in a trend of right-wing attacks on the Muslim minority in the U.K. "We won't give in to these bigots," he said.

The Metropolitan police force — responsible for the Greater London area — recorded 500 Islamophobic crimes in 2013, compared to 336 in 2012, according to figures obtained by the British Press Service. In particular, the police reported a surge in anti-Muslim hate crimes following the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby by a pair of Muslim extremists last May.

Muslim advocacy groups say Islamophobic sentiment in the U.K. is especially virulent online.

"The far right groups, particularly the EDL, perniciously use the Internet and social media to promote vast amounts of online hate," Fiyaz Mujhal, director of advocacy group Faith Matters, told The Independent in December.

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