South of the River: Get Up, Stand Up

The arson attacks on two places of worship in Beeston this week were profoundly shocking.

I’ve seen too many racist incidents down the years, but in the 34 years I’ve lived in Beeston, I’ve never seen places of worship attacked. It is deeply offensive and very frightening to people who worship at the Mosque or the Gudwara.

And before anyone says “but they are religions, not races – so it can’t be racist” let’s just be clear, whoever set these fires did so because most of the people who use the buildings have brown faces. That’s why the Police immediately treated the attacks as a Hate Crime.

Of course it might be that the perpetrator had doctrinal differences with Islam and Sikhism. It could be that the fires were set by two different people, on the same night, coincidentally. But it’s not very likely.

It could also be a coincidence that it happened a few days after 500 members of the English Defence League (EDL) marched through Leeds in support of their former leader, Tommy Robinson. I’m not saying the arsonist was a member of the EDL necessarily, but demonstrations like that give confidence to other racists to crawl out of the shadows.

While we’re at it, can we be clear about why Tommy Robinson, or Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon, to give him his real name, is in prison?

Stephen was arrested for actions that risked breaching that very British value that one is innocent until proven guilty – presumably a value that he would claim to support. The judge had imposed reporting restrictions on a case because otherwise it was likely to stir up public debate that might influence the jurors. He, quite reasonably, wanted them to judge the case on the evidence presented in court. The restrictions apply until the case is over and a decision has been reached, then the press, and Stephen, are able to report on what has happened.

In his defence, Stephen said he didn’t realise he was breaching the reporting restrictions. But he has form. This is the third case he has disrupted in this way, he was serving a suspended sentence for the same offence when he was arrested. He clearly wanted to be arrested and become some sort of martyr for free speech. Well I’m sorry, but free speech wasn’t under attack in this case.

Anyway enough about Stephen, lets get back to Beeston.

The far right have tried to sow divisions in our community before and we know what to do. We come together and we celebrate our diversity.

The first thing we did after the London bombings was to hold a vigil in Tempest Road in solidarity with the victims. We then held a march into town and sent a busload to Kings Cross with messages of support. When the BNP gathered outside the Broadway pub in the wake of the bombings, we let the Police deal with them and carried on with our business.

By the way, can I say how impressed I am with the Police response. Having recently watched the excellent documentary about the Stephen Lawrence case, I was reminded about the bad old days. But after these attacks the Police had not only put together a dedicated team to solve the crime, but they had stepped up their presence locally and senior officers met community leaders within 12 hours of the attacks.

The community response has been solid too. We reported on Khaleeqa Bostan’s initiative to start a crowdfunding appeal for the Mosque and Gudwara. This is Beeston so of course it reached its original target within 48 hours (but you can still donate).

There is a chance for women and girls to join a community Iftar tonight (Friday 8 June) at the Hamara Centre. The Iftar is the meal breaking the days fast during Ramadan.

And Leeds Stand Up To Racism have called for a vigil in Cross Flatts Park at 2pm on Sunday. Gathering in a park may not seem like much, but at times like this it is hugely important to stand up and be counted. A public gathering is a powerful symbol of our unity and makes a statement that we do not tolerate racism.

So please follow Bob Marley’s instruction to Get Up, Stand Up on Sunday and show your solidarity.

I’ll be on back soon with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.