Hate Crime in Worcester Park?
A second attempt has been made to gain planning permission for the old Bank Chambers in Worcester Park to be used as a Mosque.
A Muslim businessman from Teddington has made the application for the building to be used as a place of worship for up to 25 people. When the original application was made I registered my objection on the basis of traffic congestion. Worcester Park High Street is already heavily congested, and there is scarcely enough parking space. I told the planning committee that I would also object to the building being used as a church or synagogue or temple. This is simply the wrong place for a community building. The first application was turned down on that basis. The second application includes the installation of cycle racks, and a commitment to encouraging worshippers to not arrive by car. Many people, myself included, are sceptical about this and we have yet to see how the second application proceeds.
However some of the responses by local people - on Twitter, and other media - have got nothing to do with concerns about traffic flow. This planning application has brought to the surface deep hatred of Muslims, immigrants and people of colour within our local community. This week a swastika was painted on the doors of the building. To be clear, the planning application didn't create these darker attitudes; it simply served to expose them.
Community relations, especially in an area like ours with people drawn from so many cultures, is not a subject for either naivety or dogmatism. It is complex. Living with difference, valuing difference, is something which takes time and conversation. Any movement forward has to be based on trust which has come from knowledge, understanding and mutual respect. Unrealistic ideals and unworldly aspirations will sabotage this as much as fear and prejudice.
If we want to improve this situation, if we want to create and foster a community based on mutual respect where all people of goodwill can flourish, we need to begin with ourselves. We - I - need to examine ourselves and discern what motivates us. Christians hold very dear the saying of Jesus: 'you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free'. When we begin to see and address the truth about ourselves, then change starts to happen. Disguising racist and other dark attitudes will get us nowhere good.
We might still choose to object to the creation of a mosque in the Bank Chambers (or not), but we need to know what is truly going on inside us.