Socialist Worker

Show of defiance and unity in Manchester following arson attack on mosque

by Dave Sewell
Issue No. 2564

People gathered outside the Nasfat Islamic centre in a show of unity against the racists on Friday

People gathered outside the Nasfat Islamic centre in a show of unity against the racists on Friday (Pic: Socialist Worker)


In a show of defiance days after their local mosque was burned down, around 200 people from Newton Heath, north Manchester, marched in the area on Friday.

They gathered at the burned-out Nasfat Islamic centre, with supporters including Stand up to Racism activists. They walked to a nearby park to hold their Friday prayers in public.

Mosque secretary Monsurat Adebanjo-Aremu told Socialist Worker, "This attack is racism, it's Islamophobia, and it keeps getting worse. Today we're showing that although we've been attacked we're staying strong—and we're not leaving Newton Heath."

The building was gutted in a fire on Sunday night that police are treating as a hate crime. Samusideen Oladimeji, a mosque spokesperson, said, "When I came and saw the damage I was devastated."

Local resident Carl Cullough walked past on his way to work early on Monday morning. "There were loads of police and firefighters and an acrid burning smell in the air," he said.

"I was shocked. This is one of the toughest areas in Manchester but this fire can't be dismissed as just gangs. This is a racist attack—they were targeted because they are Muslims."

The mosque and its congregation have suffered repeated attacks and verbal abuse ever since they moved to Newton Heath.

Reported

Some incidents have been clearly Islamophobic, some had the potential to kill.

"Once someone put fire in through the letterbox when we were inside," said Monsurat. "It was scary—and dangerous. And the reason this is happening now is because it was not dealt with all the times in the past."

On the protest

On the protest (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Samusideen said, "Whenever we put CCTV up it would be taken down. Whenever we reported something to the police before they would say 'we're looking into it' and nothing would happen."

This grievance is shared across the city. A coalition of Muslim organisations wrote an open letter to MPs, Manchester City Council and Greater Manchester Police after the attack.

"It appears that attacks on mosques, like Islamophobia, are not taken seriously and are considered normal and expected following a terrorist attack reportedly committed by Daesh [Isis]," it said. "This shouldn't be acceptable."

Labour city councillor Rabnawaz Akbar was on the march to represent the Manchester Council of Mosques, one of the signatories to the letter.

He told Socialist Worker, "This is a hate crime aimed at dividing communities, and we're showing that we won't let that happen."

The mosque-goers' march was held up while police dispersed a group of white racists with dogs out to harass them.

Samusideen said, "We do everything to be good neighbours, but it seems some people do not want us here as Muslims. But we are part of this community, and we are here to stay.


A history of racist attacks

The mosque is isolated in a poor area with an active far right.

Just round the corner from it is a house decked with union jacks and a sign bearing the fascist slogan "multiculturalism is genocide".

Nazi groups the National Front and North West Infidels both have stickers up nearby.

Newton Heath, and neighbouring wards in the area where north Manchester fades into Oldham, are a world away from the "Northern Powerhouse" of Tory rhetoric. They're equally far from the diversity of much of south Manchester.

Since the decline of heavy industry they have seen high levels of unemployment and poverty. Almost every road has boarded up or derelict buildings.

And until recently very few migrants have sought to make lives in the area. As Carl put it, people there have been "left behind".

But racism isn't just produced by poverty—the poison drips from the top of society.

Poison

Carl said, "For me the culprits are the press—especially the unholy trinity of the Sun, the Mail and the Express. The poison they put out makes it seem acceptable to some people to do something like this."

Racist speeches from the likes of Theresa May "certainly don't help".

He also said there was an "undercurrent" of far right organising going back a long way. And the Labour council that has overseen the area's decline has been wary of "provoking" them.

It avoided campaigning in Newton Heath in last year's referendum. And the mosque leaders were put under pressure not to hold a march at all.

Rightly they dug in, though in the end the event was branded a "peace walk", with no chanting and with slogans emphasising opposition to terrorism and extremism.

For Manchester SUTR activist Nahella Ashraf, writing off poor and mostly white areas is a dangerous error—and confronting racism is essential.

"The assumption politicians make is that all white working class people are just racist," she said. "And they keep misunderstanding the Brexit vote.

"But the fact that there have been so many previous attacks while nothing's been done shows that trying to 'keep your head down' isn't a solution. That only gives the racists more confidence."


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