Fear and loathing in Abbey Mills

12 July 2007

As many people (especially those in East London are aware), there is a proposal to build the London Markaz, the so-called “Mega Mosque”1 at Abbey Mills, near West Ham tube station. Even though we’re not even at the stage where planning permission has been sought, let alone a public enquiry, the proposed 12,000-capacity mosque has attracted a rather popular petition opposing it on the Number 10 website. But hang on, what’s this in the petition’s description?

We the Christian population of this great country England would like the proposed plan to build a Mega Mosque in East London Scrapped. This will only cause terrible violence and suffering and more money should go into the NHS.

[Emphasis mine]

The statement I have put in bold is a troubling one. There’s not even a sop to “community cohesion” or “inclusion” – instead it’s straight into the fear and violence line, straight away. Proper Enoch Powell territory, this – blood will be spilled, they vow. I’m just surprised they didn’t squeeze in a “clash of civilisations” mention as well.

The statement has one of two inferences. The first is that visitors to and worshippers at the mosque (i.e. Muslims) are, all other things being equal, somehow more predisposed to perpetrating violence and suffering than those who are not. The other, more menacing one, is that its a veiled threat of violence and suffering against those who will be attending it. The first is ugly simple-minded racism of the most banal and casual kind, the second a near-incitement to violence. Either way it’s not very pretty.

I live only a couple of miles from the proposed mosque’s site (unlike many of those who have signed the petition, I’d wager). And ironically, I don’t actually support its construction either. To be honest, I’m not that keen on the construction of any large religious buildings – if they’re promising us everything we could possibly want in the next life, why do they have to take up so much space in this one? Quite apart from my own atheism, I believe in as much space as possible being as accessible to the population as a whole as possible.

I do know for a fact, though, that the site north and west of West Ham tube station, for want of a better word, is a shithole, a combination of derelict land and outdated underused industrial buildings, and in dire need of redevelopment. Using the space as a venue for local arts and culture (for those of all faiths, or no faith at all), with libraries, theatres, museums etc., or as an urban nature reserve, or the site of a new school or college, or indeed anything other than yet more overpriced yuppie housing, that would improve the local social fabric and complement the enormous Olympic park being built up the road, would do more to enrich local life, I feel.

But I cannot even begin to consider putting my name upon a petition against the mosque with a negative, hateful and menacing statement behind it. While they propagate the fear that the mere construction of a building lead to violence and suffering, the reality is that shrilly preaching “your sort are the wrong kind and bound to stir it up” is the far more likely incitement to violence. And while there is brow-beating about the NHS needing more money, the mosque isn’t actually being funded in any way by the public purse. Ironically however, the Number 10 petition site hosting this petty statement of hate is, and I find it quite distasteful that a publicly-funded facility is being used in this way.

I’ve sent an email to the Number 10 petitions team (not sure if MySociety run it day-to-day or if someone in the Number 10 is responsible) asking for, at the very least, a more neutral and less inciteful wording to the statement. I’ll keep you posted on any response I get.

1 A pedantic point, this, but the term “Mega Mosque” is strictly inaccurate, as it will not hold anywhere near a million people, but only of the order of ten thousand. A better term would be a “Myria Mosque” as myria- is the metric prefix for ten thousand. Of course, Daily Mail types should really be using the Imperial system, shouldn’t they?


2 Responses

I couldn’t agree more with you here. The populism contained in that small extract is amazing. You have to love ‘of this great country’ bit. By invoking some bizarre unqualified greatness it seems that they think that it entitles them to say whatever they want.

Georgina

Take a look at Ken’s statement from 17 July:
http://www.london.gov.uk/mayor/statement_170707.jsp
Seems to me there’s been a whole load of hullaballoo about nothing. And irresponsible hullaballoo at that. I quite agree with you about the wording of the petition – deeply unpleasant…