An Islamophobic attack on a school in Newcastle has been met with a 'human chain' anti-racist protest and community meeting addressed by MP Chi Onwurah, reports David McAllister
That was the unifying message in Newcastle's West End on Saturday 2 February, as 70 people of different faiths, ages and backgrounds joined hands to form a human chain outside the Bahr Academy. The protest follows an incident earlier this week, when the building was vandalised, resulting in Islamophobic graffiti all over the walls and damage to the interior.
The protest, which was organised by Newcastle Unites alongside Bahr academy staff and students, was followed by a meeting inside, attended by around 100 local people from various groups, as well as local councillors and MP Chi Onwurah. There was much discussion about the long and hard struggle faced by staff and volunteers to complete work on the school, and all agreed that this also means standing strong and united against those who try to create and capitalise on a toxic climate of Islamophobia that aims to scapegoat vulnerable communities.
This is not the first time the school has been a target for racists. When plans to convert the site, formerly the setting of TV show Byker Grove, into an Islamic school were approved in 2012, the EDL attempted to organise a march through the area and were countered by an anti-fascist demonstration. Since then, however, the building has continued to await full refurbishment as staff and volunteers have campaigned hard to be able proceed with the necessary developments to use parts of the site, while trying to raising the necessary funds to get the a new school fully up and running which can provide the best possible education for the local community. This has left the site vulnerable to vandalism, including the despicable acts of racism seen this week.
But Newcastle Unites has been effective over the last few years, not only countering the racists, but by bringing different communities together and building a culture where racism and fascism are not welcome. Bahr Academy has already raised over £3000 for repairs in eight days, and the spirit of solidarity from all parts of the community on Saturday left everyone with a strong belief that the forces of hate will never succeed in Newcastle.
Following the event, Kaleemun Nahar, senior manager at Bahr Academy, posted the following message:
"We want to show our appreciation to Newcastle Unites for organising this event, to our MP Chi Onwurah, all our wonderful Councillors, Imams, People of faith and non faith. Your support means a lot to us.
"Seeing the diverse communities coming together in this cold weather to unite was very overwhelming. It gives us hope that the city of Newcastle stands united against these adversities and that the minority who did this and are consumed with hatred do not represent us."
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