Respect members have been collecting money and supplies for the victims of the recent Asian earthquake, and raising the political issues brought to the fore by the disaster.
Respect councillors Michael Lavalette and Steven Brooks in Preston have been at the centre of the campaign. Michael told Socialist Worker, “After the tsunami last year Respect was heavily involved with collecting for the victims, along with the mosques and the council.
“Because it is the holy time of Ramadan it was more difficult for the mosques to be involved in collecting this time round, although they did collect a lot from their worshippers.
“There is not another council meeting for three weeks.
“Because of this we had a meeting which organised to get collections of sleeping bags and other materials. There was drop off points in Gujarati, Pakistani and mixed areas. There was a fantastic response.
“We had people who volunteered to drive them to Bolton, Nottingham and Edinburgh from where they were to be flown to Pakistan.
“Many of the things we collected should now be in Pakistan. We have been involved with the Big Wide Talk children’s non governmental organisation. It is taking relief to the area of Kashmir where there has been very little help from the Pakistani state.
“Respect members and people from the Pakistani community collected £1,700 in just two hours in Preston town centre last Sunday.
“Hindus, black people and poor white people gave generously — most people from a Muslim background had already given.
“It was noticeable that it was mainly working class people, who can afford to give the least, donating the most.”
Murtaza Ali, a Respect member in central London, said, “The community that comes from the Bagh district in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir have been very active in raising aid—through putting collection boxes in local shops or through their circle of friends.
“A lot of people have donated through those channels. There is a mood of sympathy prevailing among people, indiscriminate of race and religion. It is ordinary common people who are showing a unique solidarity.
“We are hoping to build shacks for families in Kashmir. There is a consensus among people that the Pakistani military acted too slowly and didn’t have a clue what to do.
“Many people are saying the best thing to do is collect the money and aid and take it to Pakistan yourself. People do not want anything to end up in the hands of the military and civil bureaucrats in Pakistan.”
Mobeen Azhar of the Respect national executive helped present a telethon on Islam TV last Saturday. Mobeen said, “In four hours the telethon collected £120,000.
“Money, blankets and tents are desperately needed. That’s why I agreed to do the telethon, even though in the long term more than charity is needed.
“In these situations it is sometimes difficult to emphasise the political issues.
“But disasters are worsened by poverty and the poorest are those worst affected.
“I, and a number of other people, mentioned these issues. I also mentioned that Respect in Leeds and Bradford were also central to collecting. People from every community have come together.”