Around 80 people attended an anti-Islamophobia public meeting, in Newcastle on Thursday, called by well-respected local Labour councillor Dipu Ahad, in response to the recent Qu’ran burning incident in nearby Gateshead.

Leon Kuhn imageA group of around 30 EDL supporters gathered outside, where there was a significant police presence, but the meeting went ahead as planned.

This is the third major public meeting on Islamophobia in Newcastle in the last few months. Tyneside Stop the War Coalition has previously organised two meetings of a similar size, first in June and again just last week.

Alongside those events, this meeting was a useful step towards developing a new broad coalition to tackle the growing threat of Islamophobia, of which the racist EDL is just one manifestation.

Dipu Ahad, Newcastle councillor in the multi-racial Elswick ward, spoke about the urgent need for a united response to the wider threat of Islamophobia. He stressed the need for broad-based unity.

Dipu talked about facing racism in a variety of contexts and noted, “When I was young racism was due to colour, but now it’s about religion.” He spoke of the suspicion and distrust often directed towards Muslims.

Laura Pidock of Show Racism the Red Card emphasised that her organisation seeks to get racism out of society, not just football. She emphasised how many young people are instinctively anti-racist and opposed to racist divisions.

She talked about the urgent need, in schools and elsewhere, to undermine the crude associations many people have between Muslim and ‘terrorist’, which is fostered by media and some politicans.

Abu Tayeb of Islamic Diversity Centre recalled that Muslims are not the first group to have been targeted by media misrepresentations. Black people, the Irish and Jews have all been subject to scapegoating. Now the media are demonising and misrepresenting Muslims.

Abu said “We are not going to be silenced and become victims. Different cultures must stand up to oppression.” He called anti-Islamic bigotry the last form of acceptable prejudice.

Yunus Bakhsh of Unite Against Fascism noted that a particular problem seems to be emerging in the North East, since the Quran burning in Gateshead is the only example in country. “When you start with book burning,” said Yunus, “you end up burning people”. Yunus said the EDL was established after Muslims protested in Luton, and claimed it was being used as a front for the BNP.

A number of people called for support for the TUC-backed national demonstration on 6 November. Speaking from the floor, the President of the local Pakistani Cultural Association said his organisation would fund a coach to November’s demo. Activists are now hoping to mobilise a strong turnout from Tyneside.

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Tony Dowling

Tony Dowling is a teacher, socialist, trade unionist, antifascist, anti-war & anti-cuts activist. He is currently chair of North East People's Assembly and a member of Counterfire.