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24 September 2014

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Why I stand against hate, why I stand with Brummies
By Adam Yoséf, Birmingham site-user
Peaceful protest in Victoria Square
Adam Yosef Ali talks about the vibrancy of Birmingham, and what drew him and other people from all faiths, cultures and races to join together and unite against racism and hatred.

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Adam Yosef ALi
Adam Yosef Ali

Birmingham People
As someone who was born and bred in Birmingham, I am very passionate about my city, despite the problems that do exist in places as in every city of the world.

But it's not just the buildings or the Bullring that make me proud and it's not just the history, the famous faces or the 'firsts' we've achieved that makes me boast about the city. Birmingham could still be a grimy industrial smog-ridden haven for rats and I'd still be proud - as long as we had the people that we have today.

People chatting in Victoria Square

What I love most about Birmingham is our heritage, a heritage that we keep adding to, that we keep building upon. Like an amazing exotic recipe, God keeps adding more and more varieties of people to the city not just so that it can have the opportunity to better itself but so that there can be difference. A difference that helps us learn and understand and helps us to be tolerant and accepting.

Cosmopolitan City

After London, we are the most cosmopolitan, multicultural, multi-faith, interracial and culturally interwoven society in Britain and if that's not worth being proud of, then build another Bullring, I say.

There's always going to be exceptions but the majority of Brummies are a peace loving non-prejudiced and tolerant people. With the awful things that are currently happening in the world, it gives us more reason to love each other and to stand up for each other when our unity and solidarity are threatened.

Anti Nazi symbol in chalk
Anti Nazi symbol in chalk

I work with a number of peace organisations and have stood up for people all over the world in the last few years. I, along with thousands more, have stood up for their rights, their liberty, their freedom of faith and for them to live in peace. It didn't occur to me that I may have to do this for
myself and for my own city too but with recent events in the UK, that is also becoming a frequent occurrence.

Defending Birmingham against hate

On Sunday 25th April, I had to stand strong with my city in a manner that has never taken place before. I had to defend Birmingham, fellow Brummies and the multicultural city in which we live and I had to do this with other Brummies and Midlanders against a force of hate that was headed this way.

Birmingham Anti NAzi League banner
Birmingham Anti Nazi League

That force of hate was in fact French far-right politician Jean Marie Le Pen, the man who claimed the World War II holocaust was "a mere detail in history" which echoed the views of those who invited him, the BNP. The British National Party not only deny the holocaust completely and spread rampant anti-Semitism but they also encourage Islamophobia amongst the British people.

It was strange for the BNP to invite a foreigner to represent their election bid, after all, the BNP are supposed to represent Britain, not France, but they did so all the same. Their first stop was Manchester for a dinner but as previously in Edinburgh, the venue cancelled and refused to allow Le Pen to enter the building. On the streets of Manchester, people threw rubbish, eggs and old fruit at Griffin, Le Pen and their entourage's car.

Peace protestors
Peace protestors

The BNP were expected to hold a meeting in Birmingham but after Brummies planned to stage a demonstration, the BNP backed off and opted for Shropshire but for Brummies, this was not far enough. Unite Against Fascism was still going to go ahead with an anti-racism rally in the city in a bid to ward off Le Pen's hate and racism altogether. A BNP sympathiser even sent a murder threat to Unite Against Fascism in the hope that they would cancel the rally.

United in peace

So, on Sunday, hundreds gathered into Birmingham's Victoria Square in the city centre shouting anti-Le Pen and anti-BNP slogans by a huge stage set for speakers. There were press there, community leaders, photographers,
children running around, the sun was shining, it was a really beautiful atmosphere. If anyone needed further affirmation of Birmingham's mixed and united society, then here it was.

Protestors make their feelings known

There were speakers and supporters from all over Birmingham and the West Midlands, all holding up their home made and Unite Against Fascism placards and banners. People bearing anti-BNP stickers and children climbing all over the square's main fountain so that they could wave their messages high for all to see. The fountain itself was actually switched off, I'm guessing so that the kids didn't foam it up again!

I was actually quite amazed by the turnout as I have been to numerous peace demonstrations and rallies and become accustomed to regular faces but here I couldn't recognise most of the
crowd. Here were people who had never been involved before, yet they were taking to the streets because they felt strongly against a possible but futile threat to the colourful image of a truly great city.

Peace protestor

As for Le Pen and the BNP, they weren't revealing where in Shropshire or the West Midlands they were going to be. Those with tickets had to wait until two hours before the event; they called a number and were notified of the location. The peace protesters also found out and a contingent headed out towards the border of Wales. They found the spot and some were allowed close enough for peaceful protest.

However, the police didn't allow in the cars with black and Asian peace protesters, which was rather unfortunate really. Maybe they thought this may cause a problem with the BNP. That's
probably why the BNP got scared away from Birmingham too, because the very colourful people of Birmingham working together would have been too much for Le Pen and Griffin to stomach seeing as they do not believe in
multiculturalism or multi-faith societies.

Singer Yaz Alexander

Back in Birmingham, trade union leaders spoke out against Jean Marie Le Pen. Councillors told city folk that Le Pen was not welcome. Community leaders, artists and musicians, political party members, peace movements and the young all shared their feelings about the BNP-supported racist visit of a man who has been indicted by French courts numerous times for racial hatred and anti-Semitism.

The stand against Le Pen

As far as faith communities were concerned, Le Pen was a representation of all that is wrong with the world and against religious tolerance and teaching. Dr. Mohammad Naseem of Birmingham Central Mosque condemned his visit and asked everyone to "boycott" the French politician. I spoke to a few members of the Sikh community at various Gurdwaras on Saturday, a day before Sikh celebration Vaisakhi and they could not attend the rally because of their festival but wholeheartedly supported it.

A placard saying 'Nazis out'

I also spoke with Rabbi Margaret Jacobi of the Birmingham progressive Synagogue just before the Sabbath began and she was more than eager to inform her congregation of the rally against a notorious anti-Semite. I believe that it is very important for both Muslims and Jews to stand against Le Pen and his views.

People of all faiths stood together on Sunday including representatives of local churches and members of the Quaker Society of Friends. Chris Martin of the Birmingham Quaker-Muslim Peace and Social Justice Group was also at the rally and for me, Chris and the inter-faith organisations of Birmingham represent the tolerance that we all strive for.

No to racism

I stood there on Sunday proudly as a Brummie and as a member of a very diverse and mixed region that stands against all hate and against Jean Marie Le Pen. He may be able to stir hatred in France but he is not welcome to do so here, especially not in Birmingham where churches, mosques, synagogues, gurdwaras, mandhirs and temples fill the skyline.

People of all nationalities, dress, colour, faith, background and language walk our streets, run our schools, work in our institutions and provide our fundamental services. We are all a people of peace and we are all Brummies. Say no to racism, say no to the BNP.

Words and pictures by Adam Yosef, site user

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