LAST SATURDAY around 300 people gathered in Beeston for a peace march to the centre of Leeds. Beeston is the area where two of the people reported to be responsible for the 7 July bombings came from.
On the march people held homemade banners proclaiming that they would not be divided.
Bishr said, “The media haven’t been able to dig up the story of a divided community in the way they wanted to. The local Stop the War group together with the mosque and churches called a peace vigil even before we knew that the bombers were local—people knew we had to stand together.”
In the general election earlier this year the fascist British National Party took nearly 61,000 votes in Yorkshire and Humberside.
This result is one reason people feel it is so important to stand together as a community.
But there are bitter memories of how the police and the government have reacted to Muslims in the past.
Muhammad said, “People still have the riots of 2001 very clearly in their minds. I think that whole episode broke a lot of people’s trust in the police and the justice system in this country.
“We saw how the police allowed the racists to push at people. They banned a fascist march in Bradford but let them hold a rally.”
Ameena said, “My family are friends with one of the guys who was part of the riots. He was given a shorter sentence because he was under 18. But some people were given four years for throwing a stone at fascists who were attacking their community. There were cases around the same time that saw white people getting sentences of 12 months for similar offences.”
Faisal said, “I’ve lived in this area all my life, as have most of the people I know.
“I was going to go to university but when the time came there didn’t seem much point really. It’s not just the debt you have to get into to get through university, you have to look at whether it will make any difference to your life. I have friends with degrees who are in the same boat as me now. So what’s the point?”
Ameena said, “I want to go to university. I wanted to become a teacher. But I wonder if people will look at me differently now, if they will want a Muslim woman teaching their children.”
As the march came to an end at Millennium Square the marchers from Beeston came together with a march from the Harehills side of Leeds to hear community and religious leaders talk about the need for unity and peace.
Sam Kirk says, “I spoke as a representative of the Beeston community. The Labour Party put pressure on people not to mention the war.
“But I said that we have to understand why the bombings have taken place, and that involved the war. It went down very well, as did other speakers who made the link to foreign policy. There’s such a feeling about Iraq in the community that you cannot not mention the war.
“Though the march itself was not officially anti-war, many people were chanting, ‘Stop the bombings, stop the war’ and ‘Peace in Britain, peace in the world’.”