Recent protests over the redevelopment of a Mosque in Maidstone, Kent has led to the formation of an Anti-Racist Network over the concern of rising far-right intimidation towards Muslims.
On Saturday 21st January, Maidstone Mosque in Kent was subject to a protest from a small number of members from far-right groups Britain First and South East Alliance who came out to campaign against the approved plans to expand the town’s Mosque.
Maidstone Mosque, which has been part of the community for over 20 years, had its redevelopment plans approved by Maidstone Borough Council in December. The proposal would see the demolition of the building and the creation of a modern, three-storey structure, featuring a complex of classrooms, a library, offices, kitchen, three shops and one flat.
A post on Britain First’s website, under the heading ‘No more mosques’ explained it wanted people to complain to Maidstone council about the decision in a bid to get it reversed. The Britain First protest followed on from one done by South East Alliance the previous week that was branded ‘pathetic‘ by counter protesters.
In response to these protests and the worrying rise of far-right sentiments against minority communities, Maidstone Green Party’s campaigns officer, Steve Cheeseman, set up the Maidstone Anti-Racist Network.
He says it was necessary in the face of increasing threats and intimidation towards Muslims in Maidstone from far right groups, and that it will organise peaceful counter protests. The group attracted almost a hundred members in its first few hours.
Speaking of South East Alliance and Britain First, Mr Cheeseman said,
“Their attempts to intimidate local Muslims are not welcome and we want to show them just how welcome our Muslim friends are in Maidstone. I managed to get to the mosque today and disrupt their protest a little but this new group, which is open to all Maidstone people, will help us organise more quickly and get a greater response if there is a next time.”
In its own response to the protests, Imam Dr Muhammad Usmani invited protestors from both sides in to the Mosque for refreshments.