A petition opposing a proposed Islamic Centre in the Lancashire town of Darwen has gained over 2,000 signatures in under a week. Local MP Jake Berry is said to have backed to the petition. But others have criticised this decision.

The petition on change.org has little description. Its letter to Jake Berry MP reads “No to mosque in Darwen”. Some signatories have been blunt in their opposition. Others were concerned that the building is in a ‘conservation area and is not suitable for this type of development’. Others fear an increase in parking congestion. Or call on the council to provide housing for the homeless.

A top-rated comment from a local read: “they don’t need any more mosques they have enough. will cause more disruption and traffic chaos. getting out of hand now .once a proud mill town, now being turned into takeaways, cheap shops. taxis..how much more of our heritage are we going to be deprived of. the workers of this town built darwen,now it seems like its being bought by foreign investors brick by brick. shame on the council if it allows this atrocity. god bless us all.”

A spokesman for the group, however, urged residents to raise their concerns directly. And insisted that parking congestion would not be an issue as most worshippers ‘will be walking to the centre’. The group insist that its primary function will serve as an Islamic education centre.

But the nature of a public petition means that individuals who live outside the area have also signed. One such individual resides in Toronto, Canada. Her opposition rests on the claim that: “there is more laughter in a Pub !”

Another local resident wrote: “Darwen is a well loved town and we do not want muslim religion taking over.” Yet, census data reveals otherwise. In the ward of Sunnyhurt, the Muslim population is just 177 (2.9 per cent) of a population of 6,183. The Christian population was 68.8 per cent. Since the 2001 census, the number of Muslims in the area declined from 255 residents. Nor is the desire for an education centre an unreasonable request. As the nearest mosque can hold 150 people. Nor should we forget that the primary function of the proposal is for an education centre. The function of a mosque is secondary and reflective of apparent demand.

Far-right social media accounts urge supporters to sign and share. One Facebook, one individual called on the proposed centre to be ‘burned down’.

The petition contains a number of unpleasant and offensive comments. An individual based in Swindon wrote: “because i5lam it’s like canc3r !!!” Some peddled conspiracies of ‘Islamisation’. Others feared the conversion would bring violence or disorder.

Yet the petition became less about a proposed Islamic Centre in Darwen. For many, there’s something larger, more sinister afoot. Conspiracism soon appeared on the petition. It soon became a question of national character and identity. What Britain seems to represent and how Islam and Muslims fit into it. Or what they fear losing – no matter how imagined or ignorant.

Individuals based in Falmouth, Derbyshire, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Blackpool, and Bognor Regis signed the petition.  A user in Bristol warned that “there is No place in Britain for Islam, it is totally in opposed in its teachings to British Generic culture.” The comment ended with the bizarre notion that “Blood on the streets is coming, because the government and local councils,are corrupt.”

The application remains in the consultation period. Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council expect to make a decision on the application on 15 December 2016.

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