‘Frightening’ racist response to planned mosque in Weston-super-Mare

Shocked anti-racism campaigners have described the public reaction to a planned mosque in Weston as “frankly frightening”.

North Somerset Council this week revealed it had to discard 97 per cent of 157 letters of objection to a proposed Muslim Centre in Orchard Street because of their racist nature. Authority planners say some of the comments, mainly from anonymous or fictitious names, have been passed to police for investigation.

The prejudiced response has alarmed Bristol-based charity Support Against Racist Incidents, which has one worker in North Somerset.

Director Batook Pandya told the Mercury: “This should give a warning shot to the council of the potential racist tendency in the society. What this is telling us is that the majority of people who bothered to write in expressed a racist view, and that is very worrying. Are they making these comments in fear or are they naïve? For a small town like Weston I find this situation frankly frightening.”

A council spokesman added concerns had also been raised inside office buildings and police had been notified. He said: “We have received comments from all over the country and we have passed some of these to the police because of the possible racial overtures.”

The proposed centre would have been open 24-hours a day, all week for social gathering and prayer. Applicant Weston Islamic Centre, which is based in Palmer Street, had also wanted to use the former Rock Gardens site for a religious school for Bengali and Muslim children.

But the plan was turned down this week by planning officers, who in a statement to the centre said: “The site is close to residential properties and the proposed use would lead to an unacceptable level of noise and disturbance during unsocial hours, to the detriment of their living conditions.”

Last month, the Mercury also reported 440 members had joined an anti-mosque Facebook group called “No to the new Mosque in Weston-super-Mare”. The internet forum contained many written threatening and racist comments, including one branding all Muslims as terrorists.

Weston Mercury, 19 November 2009