Commemoration of drummer Lee Rigby and supporting the Muslim in Brent


Cllr Patrick Vernon shares his thoughts – Commemoration of drummer Lee Rigby and supporting the Muslim in Brent.

On Friday the 31st of May I attended an event at Brent Town Hall which was a commemoration event for the murder of the drummer Lee Rigby. The event was organised in less than 2 days and attracted over 200 people reflecting the diversity of Brent in terms of faith, ethnicity, age, identity, and politics. It was the foresight of Cllr Mohammed Butt the leader of the Council with the support of Cabinet lead for Community Safety, Cllr Aslam Choudry who chaired the event. The event provided an opportunity for Brent to give solidarity for the family of Lee Rigby but also a renewing commitment of our multicultural and multi faith society.

Significantly, I saw the event on Friday also supporting and standing side by side with the Muslim community who have contributed to the economic, political and social life in Brent and across the country. A minute silence was led by the Mayor Cllr Bobby Thomas who recently became the first Jamaican Councillor in Brent to become Mayor.

A number of speeches, prays and reflective comments were given by a range of local and national faith leaders reflecting the diversity of religious thought and expression in Brent. Speeches were given by the local Commander for Brent MPS Alan Jones, elected representatives – Cllr Mohammed Butt, Sarah Teather MP, Barry Gardiner MP and Navin Shah AM. Their speeches were passionate reflecting the human spirit, values and sanctity of life and forgiveness.
All speeches drew a clear line that that this act undertaken in Woolwich was not in the name of Islam along and also a condemnation of this act of violence or terrorism.

A number of community responses from the council chamber made similar points to the speakers. However a number of comments referred to the link between radicalisation of young people and the impact of Britain’s foreign policy in Iraqi, Afghanistan and potentially the current situation in Syria. The relationship between defence industry, political lobbying and regime change has been well documented in books and films over the last twenty years. CND and Stop War Movement remind us that a number of these conflicts and regime changes are also not in our name too. Whilst the work of Help for Heroes, Combat Stress and Royal British Legion also reminds us that ex-service men and women also face inequality, social exclusion and discrimination as they try to settle back in to civilian life.

One of the major consequences from the murder of Lee Rigby is how the far right have claimed him as a political martyr as part of the wider discourse of Islam and the West in term of a moral crusade as part of their frenzy Fascist ideology. The BNP and EDL systemic plans of inciting further hatred and increased Islamphobia attack against the Muslim community is something we must respond effectively and ensure the Muslim community in Brent and else is not further isolated and marginalised and at worst not stereotyped as all radicalised or terrorists.

The event on Friday also reminded me of two similar experiences over the last 12 years where I have worked closely and supported the Muslim in Brent and Westminster after 9/11 and the London Bombings in 2005.

The terrorist attack on the twin towers in New York on 9/11 had a direct impact in Brent. There was an increase in hate crime against the Muslim community (Islamphobia was not officially recognised by the Police as a reported incident) abuse and spitting of the women with hijabs on Wembley and Willesden High Road, taunting and bullying of children at school, desecration of the pray room at Northwick Park hospital, racist wording and swastika on mosque and Islamic education institutions/supplementary school in the Willesden area.

I was approached by a number of concerned Muslim led organisations and staff working within the NHS who did not have much confidence in the police and public services but was seeking help and assistance as their community was under attack by racist locally and also by BNP activist from across London and beyond who were targeting anyone who appeared to be Muslim in Brent for reprisals.

As Director of the Health Action Zone I was part of the NHS but also had lines of accountability to Brent Council. Although we part of the public sector in Brent we were perceived by the voluntary and community sector as independent and having a better understanding of the health, social and emotional needs of the community in Brent. I felt as a public servant I had a duty to respond as this was a public health, mental health and an equality issue.

I successfully convinced other seniors directors across the NHS health economy family in Brent ( health authority, mental health trust, hospitals, primary care and community services )and also Brent Council to support the Muslim community.

Under my leadership I worked with local stakeholders in undertaking a number of successful activities locally which was cited as best practice by the government and also the Muslim community felt valued and respect. Between October 2001 to June 2002 we did the following activities:

  • Convene a series of public meetings at Central Middlesex Hospital with the Muslim organisations, police, health professionals and the third sector organisations on tackling the increased Islamphobia attacks in Brent
  • Develop a series of media stories in the local papers celebrating the cultural diversity and contribution of the Muslim communities in Brent
  • Senior Directors from the local health economy in North West London signed a No Tolerance statement against Islamaphobia and promoting community relations in the delivering of services
  • The HAZ Education officer Kate Crane worked with local schools around tackling bullying as part of an approach around emotional intelligence and cultural diversity
  • Worked with the police and council to develop a local coding of recording Islamaphobia and hate crime. This was subsequently by the Met across and supported the work of Ken Livingstone as the Mayor of London around developing a policy on inequalities issues and the Muslim community in London. This influenced developing Brent Council’s Hate Crime strategy and action plan
  • Help to establish the Muslim Health Forum with Aisha Khan who know chairs the Brent Multi faith Forum to work with the NHS and Brent Council on exploring issues around health inequalities
  • Commissioned An-Nisa Society a Muslim women’s organisation to develop a helpline and counselling support to women and young people who experiencing trauma and stress
  • Worked in partnership with Brent CAB ,Victim Support and the Police to provide third party reporting of Islamphobia attacks and the recruitment of volunteers from the Muslim to work in the advice sector
  • I also worked with the late Cllr Peter Lennon who was Minster of the Methodist Church in organising an interfaith conference.

I believe the above experiences developed better relationships between the Police, Muslim community and the role of the NHS and Brent Council in responding to the current situation.

In 2005, I was appointed as Independent Chair of Westminster Race Equality Forum where I worked closely with the late Sir Simon Milton the leader of Westminster Council in developing better community cohesion and mainstreaming race equality as part of the Local Strategic Partnership. One of the key challenges I faced was the 2005 London bombing on the Edgware Road in Westminster. I worked very closely with the Council and the Met Police (particularly Brian Paddick Assistant Commissioner who at the time was responsible to coordinating the Police’s response) and BME community leaders on developing a community reassurance approach. I was involved in chairing a series of meetings as Independent Chair and working in an intense and confidential manner with the Muslim community, Council and Police during this critical period.

We must learn from the above experiences and also the failure of the PREVENT program to effectively engage with the diversity and different perspectives of the Muslim community. Also we must not expect that every single Muslim individual to justify their existence in Britain or to enter in to a new Norman Tebbit Cricket test or scrutiny to prove their Britishness.

Brent is in a good position to develop its work around social inclusion, social justice and respect in how the Muslim and other faith communities have not just simply integrated but changed the culture and identity in shaping civic and public life in the making of “One Brent”.

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