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Scotland and Islam

SCOTLAND prides itself on being a progressive country.

Racial tension seldom – if ever – spills over here. But that perception was tested this weekend.

The far-right Scottish Defence League – which says it aims to stop the "Islamification" of Britain – took to the streets of Edinburgh yesterday, staging a protest outside the Scottish Parliament. The number taking part was vastly exceeded by those who joined a march held by anti-fascist protesters in response.

On the other side of the country, a Love The Prophet rally was held to protest against the controversial film The Innocence Of Muslims. Many similar protests sparked violence around the world ... but the Glasgow event was a peaceful, good-natured affair.

But if we can be grateful that racial tensions are not a major problem in Scotland, we cannot be complacent. In this special report we look at recent disturbing incidents at a Glasgow mosque, a worrying community campaign elsewhere in the same city and the rising number of race-hatred offences in Scotland.

THE FIGHT AGAINST THE RIGHT

THEY had been banned from marching through Scotland's capital amid concerns that football casuals were being encouraged to join the protest. So, yesterday an estimated 70 to 80 members of the far-right extremist group the Scottish Defence League (SDL) instead held a "static" protest – for which permission is not needed – outside the Scottish Parliament.

But organisers of a counter-protest, which was given permission to march from the City Chambers on the Royal Mile to the Parliament, said they had been joined by more than 300 people.

Speaking shortly before the anti-SDL march, Luke Henderson, co-ordinator for Unite Against Fascism, said: "People are here today to show that the streets of Edinburgh belong to all our diverse communities, and that these communities help keep our cities vibrant."

Concerns are growing that far-right groups in the UK are trying to capitalise on simmering racial tensions following the release of The Innocence Of Muslims film, and that protests were planned against "Muslim grooming" in England.

A Facebook page linked to the Scottish Defence League encouraged people to join the demo, claiming: "It's not racist to be a proud patriot, but that's how our Government make us feel. Plain and simply we're losing our country and we want it back."

Henderson, a left-wing opponent of the SDL, said: "Things are happening now because the latest form of racism, Islamophobia, is becoming more widespread.

"Racism continues to change and be re-invented. A hundred years ago it was the Irish who were the focus, it has moved through Jews, black people and now Muslims. The outrage that rightly greeted John Terry's racist comments on the football pitch shows racists need to modify and cloak their ideas so they now talk about white culture, Christian identity and multiculturalism."

Nicola Fisher, chairwoman of the Stop the War Coalition and an UAF, claimed Islamophobia was stoking hatred against Muslims to justify attacking Iraq and Afghanistan.

She added: "It has been deliberate propaganda from successive government and some areas of the press, against Muslims."

She said cuts and austerity measures were also stoking resentment.

"People are encouraged to look at other communities and to look at refugees and asylum seekers and a lot of them might be Muslim.

"And they think, 'there is not enough money for us, there is not enough housing – why are these people getting it?', instead of looking to the rich to see how their wealth could be redistributed," she said.

One former MSP has called for legislation to keep far-right groups like the Scottish Defence League and BNP off Scotland's streets following claims they targeted pro-Palestinian campaigners in Glasgow.

Bill Butler, now a member of Glasgow City Council's Labour administration, made the call at the inaugural meeting of the anti-racist anti-fascist Hope Not Hate campaign in Glasgow. He said: "We need to make sure they're not allowed to hand out their bile on the streets."

Lothian and Borders Police said a "significant operation" was in place for the SDL protest and UAF march but no arrests were made.

'I believe that religions should be respected': Scotland's Love the Prophet rally

THE voice of the Imam echoed round Glasgow city centre and more than 1000 Muslim voices replied together. Packed into George Square, they had gathered for a protest, organised by the Muslim Council of Scotland, against the anti-Islam video "Innocence of Muslims".

Speakers from all faiths, as well as politicians, backed the campaign calling for the video to be removed from the internet and for laws to be passed preventing the insult or vilification of religion.

During the peaceful rally in front of the City Chambers, people of all ages held placards reading "No To Inequality" and "Without feelings and respect, how can we distinguish between man and beasts?"

Abdul Almatooq, 50, who attended with his two young sons, said: "We feel angry because this is shame for others to insult others. Islam encourages you to live peacefully with others."

SNP MSP Humza Yousaf and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon joined Councillor Gordon Matheson, leader of Glasgow City Council, and speakers from the Islamic, Catholic, Sikh and Church of Scotland faiths, to pledge their support for a message of unity and condemnation of the film – as well as cartoons that disparage religion.

Dr Salah Beltagui of the Muslim Council of Scotland, which organised the rally, said it was a chance to demonstrate the depth of feeling about the perceived attack on Muslims by the film.

"It is giving fuel to those who hate Muslims for some reason, to go on and do some silly activities," he said. "We have had many attacks on mosques and things, especially after an event like this and a publication like this."

Mohammed Aqib Ahmed, 19, from Cambuslang, said he felt "outraged" at the movie. He said: "We are here to stand up for our faith. I am angry at the makers of the movie – the editors and the creators. I am not angry at America for not stopping it because it wasn't them that created it, but I am angry at the people that made it and the people who support it."

Bernard Elliot, 61, from Dennistoun, called himself "a friend of Islam". He said: "I am here to support the Muslims – I believe that religions should be respected.

"You can't treat Muslims like this, it is not civilised."

However, one Scottish lawyer, Callum Anderson of Levy & McRae, said: "We don't need new laws to deal with such things. If something is racially offensive or illegal, current laws will deal with it – to try and do more would undermine democracy and the right to freedom of speech.

"Sites like YouTube already have terms of service to deal with these types of issues, and not everyone in a democracy has the same opinions of what is acceptable."

Gordon Matheson said: "Glasgow City Council was the first council in the UK to condemn the war in Iraq. Glasgow City Council was the first council to ban the march by the Scottish Defence League and I can announce that Glasgow City Council will be the first council in the UK at our next council meeting to bring forward a motion condemning the creation of the video which was clearly created to incite division."

While the event in Glasgow was peaceful, other such demonstrations around the world have led to violence and death.

One petition being circulated online in the name of the "Muslim Community of Scotland" – which urges peaceful protest – claims the volatile response to the film can be attributed to it being viewed as part of a wider campaign against Islam.

"It is by no coincidence that the release of this film comes at a time when a hostile campaign against Islam and Muslims is being conducted under the guise of the War on Terror," it states.

Mosque fears backlash from film protests

Muslim worshippers at Scotland's biggest mosque say they have lived in the shadow of racism for decades.

Abusive phone calls and regular threatening behaviour means attendees are always in a state of alert at Glasgow Central Mosque, in the city's Gorbals area.

However, recent disturbing incidents have particularly worried worshippers. A man appeared in court last week following an alleged racial breach of the peace at the Mosque last Sunday during a children's Koran competition.

The 27-year-old man, who has been charged with racially aggravated threatening or abusive behaviour and carrying a knife, was remanded in custody following his appearance at Glasgow Sheriff Court.

Many worshippers at the mosque fear it could become a target for abuse as a result of the violent worldwide fallout from the film "Innocence of Muslims".

Asid Khan, general secretary and media liaison officer at Glasgow Central Mosque, said: "We have a lot incidents, but in the past month somebody broke into mosque, climbed over the railings and vandalised our elderly daycare minibus."

Khan said he believes the abuse has built up over decades.

One of the most high-profile incidents happened in 2009, when a man threatened to blow up the mosque and "execute" a Muslim a day until all of the mosques in Scotland were closed.

Neil MacGregor, 36, who admitted making the threats, was placed on three years probation after investigations into his mental health.

Figures show police recorded more than 5500 perpetrators of race crime in 2010-11 – more than ever before. Almost all of them were white – with 99 Asian and 64 black.

They identified just in excess of 5900 victims, the second-highest figure on record. Officials stress rising figures for hate crimes may be a sign that victims have more confidence in reporting. But they admit they cannot be sure of this.

The biggest single group of those were people from Pakistan or of Pakistani origin and the next single largest group of victims were "white British".

Glasgow Muslim centre under fire

THE yellow fliers appeared last week, stuffed in the letter boxes of detached homes and clipped under the wipers of upmarket cars.

"Preserve our peaceful community", the unsigned leaflets declare before revealing that what was once a Royal British Legion hall is to become "a place for religious activities" and "Ramadan, Tarawihs and Eid prayers".

This is Newton Mearns, Glasgow's richest and most racially and religiously diverse suburb. An Islamic community group has bought the old hall and wants to turn it in to what would be the first community centre for East Renfrewshire's 3000 Muslims.

All previous applications for mosques or Islamic centres in the area have failed, for one reason or another, after hundreds of locals objected.

The latest scheme, which residents have until Wednesday to object to, is on a knife-edge this weekend with a new round of anonymous leaflets urging objections.

Interfaith activist Rizy Mohammed is surprised by such reactions. "We are not talking about a Mosque – although they would do prayers – but somewhere where families can do activities, or there could be yoga or cooking classes.

"East Renfrewshire is very diverse and we have churches of all denominations, synagogues and other things. One wonders, given the demographic, why we don't have a place for Muslims?"

The yellow leaflets complain about the "unacceptable parking practices" of Muslims, who have already been meeting at the site.

"They are far too polite to say anything racist," said one local figure – who asked not to be named – of the objectors. "In fact, they go out of their way not to use racist language - Maybe they are just nimbies. I hope there isn't more to it than that."

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