Friday 3 December 2010

Shelton Mosque Attack and Racist Violence

At work this afternoon I heard there had been an attempt to blow up the new Shelton Mosque near Hanley in Stoke-on-Trent. According to the mosque committee, the police, and the local paper, the perpetrators tapped a gas main and fed a pipe into the mosque before attempting to ignite it. Needless to say the damage done to the building as well as nearby residences could have been catastrophic. Understandably the police are treating the attempted attack as a racist incident.

There has been a long and tortuous road to Stoke's first purpose-built mosque, and has variously been used as a political football by different players of the city's fractured political game. For the "leftist" Potteries Alliance (now absorbed into the leftish
Community Voice grouping) the new mosque was ostensibly opposed on the grounds the Muslim community acquired the land from the council for the peppercorn price of one pound. This rag-tag of former Labour councillors and self-described "Marxists" were outraged the council didn't charge full price for the disused and contaminated site the mosque development has now returned to use. Presumably the PA would have been happier to add another acre of blighted land to Stoke's decaying city scape than see it taken over by the Muslim community.

And of course, our friends the BNP have tried to capitalise on the building of the mosque. As well as exploiting it as "evidence" of the Islamic plot to take over Britain, the fascists argued they had ten donors standing by ready to purchase the land for £100,000 from the council to build an old people's home. Given their organisation is delicately poised on the edge of the precipice, one wonders where these financial sugar daddies are now?

Nevertheless, despite the building having been financed entirely by local Muslims and the land being effectively abandoned by the council, there would be a few Stokies who'd have raised a glass had the mosque been destroyed. Unfortunately, the well of racism runs deep in Stoke. If you take the barely concealed racism of the BNP and the political opportunism of others, mix it with the toxic dog-whistling of the tabloid press and the deep lumpenisation of the city's poorest communities you're left with a stinking brew wreaking of resentment and xenophobia.

When the Tories ripped the economic heart out of Britain's industrial cities in the 1980s, many working class communities were left to sink or swim. Despite New Labour's love affair with neoliberalism introduced some welcome initiatives to reverse the devastating material and psychological traumas of the assault, but in real terms this amounted to tinkering around the edges. Only bold and aggressive plans of state-led investment and job creation could begin to address the long-term problems of joblessness, welfare dependency, anti-social behaviour, crime, drug abuse, and hopelessness. Small wonder many Stokies - like Labour voters elsewhere - felt the party made by the working class had abandoned them.

For a section of this lumpenised mass the message of the BNP made sense. They promised a romantic vision of an all-white Britain, a 1950s Stoke where the only black people about were those workers covered head to toe in soot and coal dust. They bred resentment and created scapegoats, pointing the finger at Asians (coded as Muslims) for the epidemic of social problems the city has experienced. Housing shortage? Blame the Muslims. Can't find a job? Blame the Muslims. Can't get into education or training? Blame the Muslims. Been refused state benefits? Blame the Muslims. It's simple, it's untrue, and yet it appears to chime with some people's experiences.

The BNP fed and nurtured this cancerous tumour on the Potteries body politic. It grew and multiplied to the extent the fascists commanded thousands of votes and returned nine councillors to the council chamber. For once, Nazi Nick wasn't talking cobblers when he described Stoke as the "jewel in the BNP's crown". But that was 2008 and this is now. During the general election their representation fell to six, and then lost an additional councillor to Community Voice(!). Shenanigans over parliamentary selections and fallings outs has decimated their Stoke organisation. They will have their hands full defending their remaining seats let alone contesting more outside their established patches in the 2011 all-out elections. The fascist tide is ebbing and the overall national political situation is less favourable to them.

Or is it? After all the bitter soup of misery and bigotry the BNP's thugs, fantasists and losers drew sustenance from is still there. It's just the window of opportunity for that poison to find electoral expression is closing. With the constitutional road disappearing, some racists and fascists will be tempted to put away their suits and rosettes and take to the streets. The presence of Stoke BNP councillors at January's violent
English Defence League demo says all you need to know about their credentials as peace-loving democrats. But the excitement of mixing it up with the police and/or anti-fascists lend EDL-style mobilisations a certain glamour that proves attractive to semi-racist/proto-fascist young men up for a bit of street fighting: it's no coincidence the EDL became a pole of attraction at the very moment the BNP entered its decline.

For others though, a more cowardly and discreet form of activity is available. With a fragmenting and declining 'official' far right some will be attracted by acts of individual violence. Muslims and other minority communities have been no strangers to racist violence during the course of the last decade, but a new wave of "leaderless" attacks on individuals and property could be more likely. With the fascists marginalised but its wellspring remaining, I fear the attempt to blow up Shelton Mosque could be the shape of things to come.


modernity said...

brilliant post, phil, please do more in this vein..

Phil said...

I certainly hope I don't have to do more in this vein!!!

Alex Dawson said...

Not a great day for the city.

With EDL graffiti appearing at the end of my street yesterday (not a million miles from the mosque), it really does seem the sands are shifting and British fascism is moving away from suits and electoral "respectability" and heading back into the territory of rioting drunken hooligans and acts of terrorism.

There is a rumour circulating I heard today that the mosque has been funded with "taxpayers money" as well, and of course, the damage from this will have to be paid for out of the stretched public purse as well. I wonder where that could have started?

On a more general point, I have scanned the internet, and aside from the BBC and local newspaper reports and the usual news agency wire copy, it appears that hardly any national newspaper in England has reported this story AT ALL, in spite of the fact the police have made it clear it was a racially motivated attack.

Can you imagine if you had changed some of this story around? Say four young Muslims trying to set fire to a small Christian community church or a a small civic hall?

It would be, I believe, top story on the TV news and all over several pages of all the tabloids as evidence of the "terrorist threat" facing Britain, the growing "radicalisation" of the young Muslims, how Labours immigration policy is to blame etc etc and Cameron would be on television pontificating about the need to "crack down" further on whatever it is he felt he needed to.

The silence of the tabloids on this attack speaks volumes. They have helped create the conditions for this sort of thing with years of drip feeding nonsensical scare-stories to the public about Islam. Then, when it inevitably comes to pass that some teenagers are infected with poison enough to act on it, the tabloids ignore what they have done as it doesn't fit in with their simplistic and hateful vision of society today.

Rash Human said...

Let's not forget the 'furore' of halal meat served in Stoke schools the BNP have decided to come out with this week. Under the pathetic excuse of 'animal welfare'.

Chris said...

The EDL actually wrote to the council where I work and said if the authority didn't celebrate Christmas they would come and demonstrate in the city. The head of service wrote back saying we intended to celebrate Christmas but wasn't happy at the implied threat.

Callum said...

"Blame the Muslims. It's simple, it's untrue, and yet it appears to chime with some people's experiences."

Just a quick point about this, Phil.

I just want to emphasize that fascist ideology, even when it grips a large section of people, does not function as some kind of 'false explanation' for their authentic social experience.

The point about the white underclass is not that they were victims who then had their victimhood explained to them by fascists, who ascribed its cause to Muslims, the liberal elite, lefties etc.

The point is that people already inside a racist viewpoint - churned out mainly by the mass media and not the BNP - were directed to experience their social reality as already victimizing them. In other words, the racist shit comes first and the 'experience of victimhood' second.

Anyway, good piece.