User:Rich Farmbrough/Dudley Hall Street mosque

The proposed Hall Street Mosque in Dudley, also known ad the Pride of Dudley and the Dudley Super Mosque was a proposed mosque in Dudley that lead to considerable local conflict between actors both local and national, which rose to national prominence at certain stages.

BackgroundEdit

Dudley sits adjacent to Birmingham within the West Midlands conurbation in England and is the administrative centre of the wider Dudley metropolitan borough. According to 2001 Census data, the town‘s population is around 194,000 which making it England‘s second largest town and of which 2.45% identify as Muslim. Residentially clustered both in the town and borough, Reeves et al.[1] note how 62% of Dudley‘s Muslims live in just five of its 24 wards. Older Muslim representatives in the town recall how Dudley has been home to Muslim communities since the 1960s. The first place of worship in the town was a house-mosque which was established in Wolverhampton Street in the mid-1960s, soon after followed by another in nearby Broad Street. Having outgrown those premises, Dudley‘s Muslims purchased a former schoolhouse from the Church of England in 1976 which once converted, became known as the Dudley Mosque and Muslim Community Centre. Located on Castle Hill, opposite the town‘s landmark castle and zoo, it remains as of 2014 the main mosque for Dudley‘s Muslims. A smaller mosque has been established on the outskirts of the town since the late 1990s and two further mosques have been granted planning permission in recent years.[2] By the late-1980s, the numbers using the Castle Hill mosque had once more outgrown the facilities. In response, the DMA began to explore sites where a new, purpose-built mosque could be established. Having purchased land on Porter Street, the DMA were contacted soon after by Dudley Council as part of the land was where the new Dudley bypass was to be built. After negotiations, disused land in Hall Street was identified in the late-1990s and offered as part of a land-swap agreement on the proviso that significant building work would be completed on the site by the end of 2008. In 2001, the DMA submitted initial plans for what it called the Pride of Dudley project and included a purpose built mosque with dome and minaret as well as separate community centre.

OppositionEdit

Opposition was initially voiced by a few local people although opposition quickly escalated once covered by the local media and taken up by the far-right. Reiterating the size of the super-mosque, opposition focused on the perceived ―Muslim village‖ that would surround the mosque and more pertinently, how a "giant minaret" would overshadow the town‘s castle and ―Top Church‖, an iconic and highly visible church that sits atop the town. Whilst the previous interviewee suggests such claims were "misrepresentations", there is evidence to suggest that if the proposals had gone ahead then the minaret would have been taller than the spire on Dudley Top Church. Lesser opposition at the time focused on how the mosque would be out of keeping with the town‘s architecture, that the community centre would be for Muslims only, and that it would significantly increase traffic congestion. Opposition also accentuated the perceived differences between Islam and Christianity, with the super-mosque failing to reflect the Christian ethos of the area and, as Cllr Malcolm Davis put it, the needs of our Christian society. One final aspect of opposition was the speculation about the amount of public money that would need to be invested into the project, most recently cited as circa £18 million.[3] Whilst such claims have attracted widespread interest and indeed outrage, supporters of the mosque have repeatedly refuted such claims.[4] Similarly, from investigations undertaken, there is a lack of evidence available to support the claims of £18 million or indeed of any concrete amounts of public funding being invested. On the back of the project being launched, Simon Darby, deputy leader of the British National Party ("BNP") who stood as councillor in the town and won Castle and Priory ward with 43 per cent of all votes. Losing the seat by just 36 votes the following year, Dudley remained a key target for the BNP largely because of the resonance of its anti-Muslim, anti-Islamic campaigns and the opposition being shown towards the mosque. In the 2005 General Election, the BNP polled around 4,000 votes in Dudley North on the back of a clear anti-mosque agenda whilst a year later, it was bolstered by the success of its post 7/7 "Islam out of Britain" campaign. A feature in the Observer shortly after noted how the BNP were "particularly determined to sound its knell in Dudley…" with Darby clarifying, "We are giving voice to the concerns of ordinary people…Yes, part of it is still about race. But particularly after 9/11 and 7/7, things have changed: the new issue is Islam‘.[5] And there appeared to be an audience for his message in the town. One anonymous local resident was quoted: "Muslims, they‘re taking the piss… They're talking about building a new mosque and a Muslim village in Dudley".[5] It was clear that at least some local residents were far from supportive of the mosque from very early on.

Politicizing the "Super-mosque"Edit

One of those prominently campaigning against the mosque was Cllr Davis. First elected as a Liberal Democrat councillor in 2000, Davis defected to UKIP in 2005. Losing his seat a year later, Davis was re-elected in 2007 in St James‘ ward. A few months before his re-election and in response to the DMA having submitted an outline planning application to Dudley Council, Davis began a vigorous campaign against the proposals and presented Dudley Council‘s Development Control Committee (DCC) with a petition signed by more than 22,000 people. On the basis that the land should be used for job creation, the DCC unanimously rejected the plans and refused planning permission in February 2007.[6] While opponents saw this as a success, it was in relation to this particular decision that Ahmed, leader of the DMA, first laid claim to the decision being "tantamount to institutional Islamophobia".[7] Consequently, the DMA appealed against the decision to the Secretary of State. With a Planning Inspectorate public inquiry arranged for June the following year, Davis stepped up his campaign and called for local people to "create crowds" outside the Council House to "show by example what chaos will ensue…If the mosque is allowed to go ahead…We need to show the planning inspector the difficulties that the mosque will cause".[8] During the subsequent inquiry, protests were held inside and outside the Council House.

Following the inquiry, the Inspector on behalf of the Secretary of State granted planning permission. Described as a "victory for common sense and democracy and a defeat for prejudice and bigotry" by the DMA‘s Ahmed, Dudley Council‘s leader at the time, Cllr David Caunt responded by warning that "there were many hurdles to negotiate before the mosque became reality" adding that "…this decision is a real kick in the teeth because this application was turned down on sound planning grounds".[9] Dudley Council noted however that the decision granted outline planning permission only and that along with the need to submit detailed planning permission, the original land swap agreement still required the mosque to be substantially built by the end of 2008. On this basis, Dudley Council took its case to the High Court to challenge the Secretary of State‘s decision. The case was heard on 28 July 2009 and immediately rejected. Cllr Anne Millward, then leader of Dudley Council, suggested that other avenues to stop the mosque would need to be explored,[10] whereas Deputy Council leader Cllr Les Jones stated there was no choice but to abide by the decision and co-operate with the DMA, maybe to try and find an alternative location.

Community impact, EDL involvementEdit

Against this backdrop of planning regulations and legal challenges, the impact of the proposed mosque on local communities was becoming increasingly significant. Whilst no direct linking evidence exists, a new mosque in neighbouring Cradley Heath was subject to an arson attack shortly after.[10] Months later, a building earmarked for conversion to an Islamic centre in nearby Oldbury was also destroyed by fire.[11] Interviews with local faith leaders also suggest that some tensions begun to appear between different faith communities, especially evangelical Christians who opposed the mosque and collectively signed the petition. More significant though was the impetus given to the far-right to forge a voice within possibly on behalf of local residents. Most prominent has been the EDL. Organizing a march in Dudley in April 2010, the EDL amassed around 3,000 supporters and one of its biggest marches, as of 2014, to protest against the mosque and what they described as the Islamification of the area.[12] In anticipation of violence, the preventative measures taken reportedly cost Dudley Council £150,000.[13] Prior to the march, cross political party support saw a number of councillors - including Conservative Cllr Millward, Labour‘s David Sparks, Liberal Democrats Dave Tyler and UKIP‘s Davis sign a public notice in the Express & Star [27] newspaper that called for the EDL to abandon its plans in the town because of its detrimental impact on community relations. The march went ahead however with minor skirmishes being reported.

Two months later, the EDL returned to Dudley once more, staging a rooftop protest on the disused building occupying the proposed mosque site in Hall Street. Complete with banners proclaiming "No to the burka" and with enough food to last a week, the protesters were set to broadcast the Islamic call to prayer five times a day through a PA system so that local people could experience what it would be like once the mosque had been built.[14] Unparalleled when compared with other locations where mosques were being proposed and where groups from within the far-right were campaigning against them in England, it was in relation to these extraordinary activities that some from within Dudley‘s Muslim communities began to speak about the EDL and the wider far-right using Dudley as "a flagship" through which to promote and foster anti-Muslim, anti-Islam feelings amongst and between local communities. The protesters were quickly removed by local police amid growing community tensions, Dudley Council announced within days of the protest that it had reached agreement with the DMA to develop the existing mosque on Castle Hill. Cllr Jones in the Daily Telegraph:

The current mosque is not really fit for purpose and we have been working with them to come up with some plans and would have been looking to submit an outline planning application in the next few months. The DMA can achieve their ambition of a new mosque which won‘t impinge on the lives of anyone else in Dudley, and meanwhile we can return Hall Street to council use.[15]

Cllr Jones stressed the decision was not a result of the protests. The DMA responded: "We are waiting to see details…if the offer is not suitable we will have no alternative but to pursue Hall Street".[16] Against the backdrop of Dudley Council and DMA, the EDL have continued to voice their opposition, arguing that any redevelopment of the existing site would be detrimental to the town given its position opposite the medieval castle. Following the EDL‘s announcement of a second march in the town on 17 July 2010, Cllr Banks responded by categorically stating that "plans to build the mosque were no longer going ahead".[17] Still, the second march went ahead and was marked by violent clashes. At the time, the BBC reported that six people had been seriously injured when a car hit pedestrians,[18] an incident an EDL-related website suggested was a deliberate attack by local Muslims on innocent bystanders.[19] A week later, on the day the EDL rooftop protesters were released from custody, the Dudley News reported that violent disorder had broken out in the town centre including reports of gunshots.[20] Unverified sources also began to report that young Muslims dubbed the Muslim Defence League (MDL) had attacked cars outside a bar in the town.[21] Around the same time, a group dedicated to the MDL appeared on Facebook.[22]

Tenuous co-operationEdit

Despite further outline plans being submitted to Dudley Council to redevelop the existing Castle Hill site, these were rejected on the basis of "technical issues" and the need to compulsorily purchase nearby land.[3] Whilst the DMA suggested that they were prepared to exhaust all options to identify an alternative location for the mosque, it also announced that it had little option but to pursue plans for developing the Hall Street site. One point of agreement however between Dudley Council and DMA was the announcement that they are going to collaboratively try and ban the EDL from marching in the town in the future not least because the costs to the town would appear to have now exceeded £1 million.[23] Whilst there has been little success in banning the EDL from Dudley, the level of activity has decreased in recent years. Whether this is a consequence of the collaborative approach adopted by Dudley Council and the DMA remains open to question however. Despite having found some common ground, the mosque issue remains far from being resolved. Having again submitted plans for the Hall Street site,[24] Dudley Council has again refused permission to build the mosque. The DMA‘s Ahmed responded by claiming that the decisions "are driven by the influence of bigotry, racism and Islamophobia".[2] Dudley Council denied such claims, arguing that two other mosques had been developed in the town.

Legal aftermathEdit

SourcesEdit

Text based on (and largely copied from): Allen, C. Between Critical and Uncritical Understandings: A Case Study Analyzing the Claims of Islamophobia Made in the Context of the Proposed ‘Super-Mosque’ in Dudley, England. Societies 2013, 3, 186-203.

ReferencesEdit

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  1. Dudley Council Mosque Refusal is "Islamophobic". BBC News, 21 September 2011. Available online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-14994649 (accessed on 22 September 2011).
  2. Allen, C. West Midlands Case Study. In Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: UK Case Studies 2010; Githens-Mazer, J., Lambert, R., Eds.; University of Exeter: Exeter, UK, 2010; pp. 147–181.
  3. Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia. Islamophobia: A Challenge for us All: Report of the Runnymede Trust Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia; Runnymede Trust: London, UK, 1997.
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  5. Allen, C. Islamophobia; Ashgate: Farnham, UK, 2010.
  6. Sayyid, S. Thinking Through Islamophobia. In Thinking trough Islamophobia: Global Perspectives; Sayyid, S., Vakil, A., Eds.; Hurst: London, UK, 2010; pp. 1–4.
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  11. Vakil, A. Who‘s afraid of Islamophobia? In Thinking Trough Islamophobia: Global Perspectives; Sayyid, S., Vakil, A., Eds.; Hurst: London, UK, 2010; pp. 271–279.
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  17. Mudie, M. £18m Mosque Plan Back on the Table. Express & Star, 4 August 2010.
  18. Downing Street. Dudley Mosque Epetition Response. Available online: http://webarchive. nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http:/www.number10.gov.uk/Page20294 (accessed on 21 May 2010).
  19. Temko, N. BNP Targets Heart of England. The Observer, 23 April 2006.
  20. Go-ahead for Mega-mosque in Dudley. Birmingham Mail, 18 July 2008.
  21. Mosque Hearing Rally Cry. Halesowen News, 28 May 2008.
  22. Dudley Loses Mosque Battle. Birmingham Mail, 30 July 2009.
  23. Cradley Heath Mosque Burnt to the Ground by Arsonists. Halesowen News, 29 December 2009.
  24. Oldbury Community Centre Gutted in Arson Attack. Express & Star, 15 June 2010.
  25. Casuals United. The Multiracial English Defence League Ring Their Message of National Unity and Opposition to Sharia to Dudley. Available online: http://casualsunited.wordpress.com/ 2010/05/03/dudley-edl/ (accessed on 24 June 2010).
  26. Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council 2010. Dudley Council Response to EDL and UAF Protests. Available online: http://www.dudley.gov.uk/welcome/news-in-dudley/april-2010/ dudley-council-response-to-the-edl-and-ua (accessed on 31 July 2010).
  27. Demo by Far-right Group. Express & Star, 2 March 2010.
  28. English Defence League. EDL Stage Rooftop Protest at Dudley Mosque Site. Available online: http://www.englishdefenceleague.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=203:edl-stage-rooftop-protest-at-mosque-site-in-dudley&catid=42:feature-stories (accessed on 2 June 2010).
  29. Plans to Build ‗Mega-mosque‘ Scrapped Amid Furious Far-right Protests. Daily Telegraph, 4 May 2010.
  30. Muslim Group Vows Mosque will be Built. Express & Star, 4 May 2010.
  31. Injuries as EDL Clash with Police. Birmingham Post, 17 July 2010.
  32. Six Hurt as Car Hits Pedestrians in Dudley. BBC News, 17 July 2010. Available online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-black-country-10674271 (accessed on 31 July 2010).
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  34. Violent Disorder Breaks out in Dudley Last Night. Dudley News, 30 July 2010.
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