Last year a planning application was lodged with the local council to convert vacant premises in the South London suburb of Worcester Park into a mosque. For those that don’t know this part of the world, Worcester Park needs another reason for more cars in the same way that Custer needed more Indians. (Sorry – the comparison just doesn’t sound the same if you use the term ‘Native Americans’!) For various reasons the main road that runs through the town seems to be at a virtual standstill for most of the day. Road works have been present almost continuously for a number of years and parking is extremely limited. The obvious assumption by most residents therefore was that a mosque would create more traffic in the town. Analysis of those that supported the scheme also revealed that most lived well outside the relevant postcode. So objections to the planning application were made and it failed.
I have to admit I didn’t take a lot of notice of the events last year as I broadly agreed with those objecting. However it did occur to me that a few of them may have racist objections too and they were hiding behind the congestion issue. Worcester Park Cricket Club, in the same road as the proposed mosque, holds junior nets every Thursday evening. Having dropped off and collected my son there last season I can honestly say it creates complete and utter traffic chaos and I have never heard or read a word of objection by local residents to that.
Well, this month the same applicant has submitted similar plans but this time for a ‘Green Mosque’ where those attending would either walk or cycle. So you might assume, that the persons who previously objected solely on the basis of traffic congestion would have no objections now and the application would go through unopposed.
Sadly that isn’t the case. Judging by the comments on the Worcester Park blog (http://www.worcesterparkblog.org.uk/) and by those who follow it on Facebook, a mild form of hysteria has broken out. One correspondent immediately wrote:
” If mosque gets go a head i promise you 100 % I will leave the area” (sic).
With a reply:
” Thats (sic) exactly what they want so they can move in and overtake. Stay put and object I say.”
Another has commented:
“I’m half way through the application and start having goose bumps…”
Huge assumptions have been made regarding the mosque’s ability or otherwise to restrict attendees to walking or cycling. I have to admit that enforcing such a restriction would be difficult but I don’t see how anyone can write it off quite as easily as many seem to have done.
If contents of the Worcester Park blog are accurate (I accept they might not be) then between applications the owner of the property was served with a planning contravention notice by the local authority as it was already being used by some as a mosque. This in itself does not bode well for his second application but is apparently being ignored by many potential objectors.
The attitude I find most distressing however is the one taken by those who seek to link the application to the appalling incident in Woolwich last week. They have used the brutal murder of a soldier by extremists as a reason for a mosque not to be opened in Worcester Park. One parent has typed:
“…we do not want this on our door step after what happened to that poor guy, this could happen again, do you really want to risk our children getting hurt.”
Does anyone really have any evidence that the same thing will happen in Worcester Park if a mosque opens there? Is there proof that extremists will start worshipping or be recruited there? As Russell Brand wrote in his blog last week when referring to one of the Woolwich suspects:
“In my view that man is severely mentally ill and has found a convenient conduit for his insanity, in this case the Quran. In the case of another mentally ill and desperate man, Mark Chapman, it was A Catcher In The Rye. This was the nominated text for his rationalisation of the murder of John Lennon. I’ve read that book and I’ve read some of the Quran and nothing in either of them has compelled me to do violence.” (http://www.russellbrand.tv/2013/05/woolwich/)
I agree with Russell.
If the examples I’ve already given don’t convince you that there’s a racist undercurrent in the objections to the planning application I cite one further comment – this one from Facebook :
” Support them! Give them bacon sandwiches and pork chops, park outside and continuously blast your car horn to show your approval, pat them on the back as they leave…………..with a club hammer!”
My view, for what it’s worth, is this – if there are genuine reasonable objections to a mosque being opened in Worcester Park, and I suspect there are, then so be it but leave racism and the tragic event in Woolwich out of it.