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Newcastle’s first minority ethnic mayor faces Islamophobic attack

29th Oct 2021

Home Correspondent

Newcastle’s first minority ethnic Lord Mayor has spoken out after being subjected to a “sickening” Islamophobic attack. Habib Rahman was left “infuriated to the core” as he and others were targeted with verbal abuse and had fireworks aimed at them outside a mosque in the West End.

The Labour Councillor, who became the city’s First Citizen earlier this year, says that a group of seven or eight youths caused trouble as he arrived for prayers shortly before 8 pm on September 4.

After initially thinking the teenagers were just loitering, he then heard the sizzle of a rocket being lit and saw it fired directly at a couple of people going into the mosque – with one shot narrowly missing an elderly man.

Rahman approached the youths, who then fled as they hurled racist abuse at him, including telling him to “go back where you came from”.

While inside praying, he heard more rockets being fired and confronted the group – at which point he was subjected to more insults and had a rocket aimed straight at him, while several more missiles were fired at worshippers and at the mosque itself.

The Lord Mayor, who has vowed to use his year in office to fight against racism and hate crime, said the incident could have caused “serious harm” if one of the fireworks had exploded directly in front of someone.
He added, “It was a horrible situation, it was absolutely sickening. I was scared, and it has infuriated me to the core.

“Where on earth have these kids picked up these bigoted, racist thoughts? Muslim people have been living in this area since long before these kids were born.

“They have contributed and continue to contribute in so many ways to making the area better for us all. When I came home, I told my sons that if they ever behaved in that kind of way, then I would disown them.”

The Elswick Councillor moved to Newcastle with his mother and brothers from Bangladesh in 1985 at the age of 12 and suffered shocking racist abuse as he grew up in the city.

His father, Azizur, was brutally killed in a racist attack just 10 days after he arrived on Tyneside in 1977, stabbed by a customer in the Wallsend takeaway where he worked.

Rahman says the experience outside the mosque shows there is still work to do.He added: “It has been a long time since I experienced something like this personally. I have to say that it was nothing compared to the verbal and physical abuse that I suffered in the past.

“Newcastle is a much more tolerant and safe city for people of colour now. But racism and hate crime still exist and here is the evidence of that.

“The only way we will deal with this problem and eliminate racism from our society is if everyone plays their part.”
Rahman has called for more support to fight the “deadly disease” of racism through organisations such as Show Racism the Red Card, one of the charities he is raising money for during his term as Lord Mayor.

A Newcastle City Council spokesperson told The Muslim News, “We are saddened to hear of reports that a number of people, including the Lord Mayor of Newcastle, were subjected to horrific abuse and intimidation as they attended prayers at a mosque in the West End of the city.

“Newcastle is a city that prides itself on being safe, welcoming and tolerant of everybody without exception. Those who carried out these acts do not represent what we stand for as a city, and their only achievement is to further unite our communities against racism and hate crime.

Northumbria Police neighbourhood inspector Andrew Stephenson told The Muslim News: “This type of behaviour, committed by the overwhelming minority, is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Not only have they damaged property, but they could have seriously injured someone.

“Officers are working closely with representatives across the local community, and increased patrols will take place in the area as officers carry out enquiries.”

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