When is it acceptable for a mosque to expand in size? An application put forward to Stockport Metropolitan Council last April continues to irritate some local residents.
Cheadle Muslim Association (CMA) wants to increase the size of their mosque and improve the facilities and services offered. Proposed changes include dedicated indoor wash facilities since the current setup relies upon temporary container facilities.
For female worshippers, the proposal would provide dedicated prayer space within the main building, as others would benefit from the increased space for education and community services. The mosque is also the focal point for improving community dialogue by hosting various events and allowing local school visits.
At present, the application has received 758 rejections and 798 approvals. But does this strength of feeling accurately reflect public opinion in Cheadle?
One possible explanation for the volume of rejections is the Facebook page ‘Say NO Cheadle Mosque Extension CMA,’ which was created on June 22. In under a week, the page gained over a thousand ‘likes.’
It actively encourages individuals to oppose the application in various ways – the most popular is a direct link to the relevant section on the council website – that way, a new objection takes minutes to create.
Fears about rising traffic congestion drive many objections. Yet, that type of objection is also used by far-right and other anti-Muslim groups to mask more bigoted objections.
For example, one user submitted a message photo that encouraged objection in non-racist terms, “It has to be a non racist objection ie to do with material planning grounds ie traffic parking appearance massing or overlooking.”
The admin team behind the page maintain that racism or hate speech is unacceptable and quickly removed. But this policy is not always enacted as some individuals accuse the admin team of censoring opinions more critical of their intentions.
Rather oddly, the admin ‘liked’ these statements:
“You need to contact the mosque buster he is a building law expert and will help anyone opposing a mosque free of charge”
“Im actually the division leader of stockport and thameside edl eth cook and well go where we want lol”
“The area is mainly English Christian society and that should be protected against Islamist followers who openly use threats against local people when they hold services in that mosque.”
A simple explanation offered for this inconsistency is that the admin team consists of five individuals. Nor are they so quick to remove offensive posts, including a bizarre comment about the local community being ‘drenched’ with non-English speaking individuals who are ‘not as friendly’ as the government likes to imply.
Others lament the ‘stealth approach’ of Islam challenging ‘Christian principles,’ as another individual wrote, “no more mosques got enough,” neither comment faced censorship.
Whilst the admin team cannot control who shares content, it is noteworthy that the anti-Islam page ‘Our Eye on Islam’ shared one of their photos. Another anti-Islam page ‘Truth About Islam’ encouraged supporters to ‘like’ their page. Other Facebook pages, including ‘Infidels of Britain’ and ‘Bolton North West Infidels,’ encourage the same.
In an effort to potentially distort the strength of feeling, the admin team encouraged individuals to use family addresses or empty properties to drive up the volume of opposition (before quietly removing the post.)
On June 30, a new campaign page, titled ‘NO to Cheadle Mosque Extension’ launched after the original page was removed from Facebook. The Stockport Division of the English Defence League (EDL) did their best to promote the new page. In a matter of days, it gained over 1,500 ‘likes.’
Warnings from the admin team about keeping content “clean” once again go unheeded, as problematic and offensive posts are easy to find:
“Thank you Cheadle. We must all stick together in this fight against Islamification.”
“This is the tip of the iceberg and we are slowly and stealthily being infiltrated by this terrorist loving cult called Islam”
“Keep up the good work guys… No to ANY Mosques ANYWERE…”
The admin team also ‘liked’ comments relating to controversial ‘mosque buster’ Gavin Boby. One poster signed off his comment with the EDL slogan “NFSE” (No fucking surrender ever) but faced no censor.
So how do we differentiate legitimate grievances from those driven by an anti-Muslim agenda? Due to poor administration, both Facebook pages only serve to distort the ongoing local debate.