NIMBYism has reached new heights in David Cameron’s constituency, with plans for a Chipping Norton Mosque up for debate. Muslims from the town and the surrounding area currently convene at the Town Hall on Fridays, but now they are looking for a place to call their own. The gentle Cotswold skyline will not, however, be interrupted by domes and minarets, as empty shop premises have been identified in the centre of town. The landlord is happy, the prospective tenants are happy: just the small matter of a change of use application. And therein lies the problem. So many objections have been received by West Oxfordshire District Council, that the application has been rejected.
It is hard to imagine what could be objectionable about a small group of people worshipping behind closed doors- until you read the objectors’ Facebook page, succinctly titled Save Chippy From Proposed Mosque. For there it all becomes clear. Within weeks, nay days, of this Mosque ‘being built’ (there is an apparent inability to understand that no-one has suggested actually building anything), Chipping Norton will be radicalised. Entire schools of children will be forced to kneel at the foot of Allah, Janet from the Horticultural Society will be sporting a burkha, and Rotary Club Barry will be strapping explosives to his chest and firing AK47 into the air.
More than 700 people have ‘liked’ this toxic Facebook page, which carries such gems as ‘we need to join forces and not let any more mosques or muslims into our country’ and ‘Mosques are used to promote terrorism… they are willing to marry children to adult pervet/pedophiles (sic) all across the country!!’
In a population of 6,000 – not all of whom will be internet-savvy, 700 people object to a Muslim prayer room? The numbers seem a little out of kilter, but dig deeper and the truth becomes clear. The most active contributors – those posting racist ‘truths’ and images clearly designed to incite hatred – are not from Chipping Norton at all. They are from Coventry, Birmingham, London and even Spain. Their profile pictures show English flags, fields of poppies, and bull-dogs with studded collars, and their (unrestricted) Facebook walls offer a constant stream of ‘inspiring’ English Defence League quotes and images. This is a campaign far bigger than one town.
The backlash from the backlash has been cheering. Within days of the anti-Mosque Facebook page appearing, a counter group sprang up called (somewhat confusingly, if you had not been privvy to the original page) ‘Save Chippy From Views Like This’. With 500 likes – almost exclusively from the town itself – there is hope for Cotswold morals yet.
We live in a country where religion can be practiced freely, whether others agree with the practice or not. I for one have no issue with a Mosque in my town, but religious hatred? Not in my backyard.
EDIT: In the piece above, I said that permission for change of use was refused after objections were received, but actually the truth is far worse than that. Permission was granted, but the landlord then received a threatening phone call saying the building would be torched if he went ahead with the plans, so he backed out.
Clare Mackintosh is a freelance feature-writer, columnist and crime novelist, and a former Police Inspector. Follow her on Twitter @claremackint0sh or read her blog at www.claremackintosh.com/blog