A mosque proposal in the heart of London sparks controversy fuelled by fear-mongering.
A proposed plan to convert a building at the heart of London’s famous Piccadilly Circus into a mosque, has resulted in objections - in particular from members of the far-right.
News outlets such as Breitbart, known for their right-wing opinions, have attempted to frame the proposed plans to convert the well-known Trocadero, as an attempt to build a “mega-mosque.”
“The word 'mega-mosque' is used to scare people,” said Heena Khaled, a co-founder of the UK-based organisation, Advancing Voices of Women Against Islamophobia.
“What do people think there will be a loud call to prayer? Britain is already a divided society and setting up petitions against planning permission and using language like 'mega' and saying that central London will have a mosque is being used to show there is a 'takeover',” added Khaled speaking to TRT World.
The proposals have also galvanised rightwing networks as far as the US who have used the issue to drum up images of a Muslim takeover.
“The opposition towards the mosque is coming from the same group of right-wing mobilisers like David Vance and Pamela Gellar (who isn't even in the UK). The thing is they're an organised network who make use of their social media platform to galvanise fear,” said Khaled.
Serving the community
Built in 1896, London’s Trocadero, as it has come to be known, was originally a restaurant. By the late 1990s, it had become a hideout for youngsters skipping school, attracted by the neon lights of arcade machines and the cacophony of music emanating from its various storeys.
With its heyday long over, the building closed in 2014, even though Piccadilly Circus became even more of a hotspot for tourists.
The Trocadero building is part of a multi-billion pound portfolio owned by Asif Aziz, the chief executive of Criterion Capital. The Aziz Foundation, a charity set up by the same owner, which offers scholarships to Muslim students, has brought forward a plan to turn the basement and ground floor into a mosque.
In a statement, the Aziz Foundation said that the aim of turning parts of London’s iconic Trocadero building into a mosque was to “serve the Muslim community who live and work in the West End and to provide a community space to those of all faiths and none.”
Not everyone, however, has welcomed the plans.
A petition opposing the mosque garnered almost 5,000 signatures, with one supporter claiming that “our country is being overun [sic] with mosques while our historic churches are in a state of disrepair, and since when was this an islamic [sic] country?”
The London district of Westminster is overseeing the consultation process, and feedback on the mosque proposal closed on Thursday 28th May.
Almost 6,000 comments have been left on the Westminister district website, an overwhelming majority of which showed support towards the mosque with some drawing attention to the fact that almost one-fifth of the population in the area is Muslim and prayer space is in short supply.
Others who left objections said they were worried that it would add additional congestion to the area.
Another member of the public, however, was less concerned about the everyday practicalities, instead suggesting a mosque would result in Muslims asking for “an alcohol-free zone”, despite no such thing existing in the UK. He went on to say that this would “negatively impact on the surrounding businesses and homes where alcohol is consumed and needed for business [sic].”
Many other comments on the website simply stated a one-line objection or had been deleted by the district council due to offensive content.
Another case of anti-Muslim sentiment?
“We can see from the comments against the planning permission being granted, that a significant number are from those individuals who espouse a hatred from Islam and Muslims,” said Aman Ali the Head of Community Development & Engagement at MEND a UK based NGO focusing on media monitoring and political advocacy for British Muslims.
“Unfortunately, such examples of Islamophobia are not uncommon in such cases of Mosque applications. It is imperative that the local authorities understand and weigh up such hate speech in its proper context and reflect on the true motivations of those making such comments,” added Ali, speaking to TRT World.
The proposed area in which the mosque would be built is also known for its lively entertainment scene, theatres, shopping space, clubs and the city's red-light district.
The area’s service economy also employs a significant number of Muslims and brings in tourists from across the world, including Muslim countries.
For Aman Ali, protests against the mosque are about creating a polarised atmosphere: “Suggestions that a mega-mosque will be built in Piccadilly Circus, an iconic tourist destination, further perpetuates the myth that somehow Muslims are taking over the country. Let's be clear here, the prayer space will take up the two basement floors of the building, the rest of which will fulfil other purposes.”
A white nationalist vlogger posted a video on the 22 May to their Youtube channel - which boasts more than 226,000 subscribers - about the dangers the mosque would pose to the “native people of this country.”
“It's an easy opportunity to stoke up fear and hatred towards Muslims,” says Ali, adding that “followers of any faith group should be allowed to establish a place of worship wherever they deem fit and as long as the local authorities allow for it.”
“The area has a significant number of Muslims who work nearby who would benefit immensely from this prayer space.”