Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Islamic Centre hits out at 'paranoid' right-wing groups after 'ban the burqa' campaign

By Andrew Madden, Local democracy reporter

Belfast Islamic Centre has hit out at the “paranoid nonsense” of far-right groups in Northern Ireland after a niqab was placed on a statue in the city as part of a “ban the burqa” campaign.

The display was carried out by “Generation Identity”, a Europe-wide movement who are against immigration, multiculturalism and support different communities' “right to difference” through separation.

GI put the Islamic clothing (since removed) on one of the statues that make up the 1992 Monument to the Unknown Woman Worker on Great Victoria Street mall on Sunday as part of their “ban the burqa” campaign.

Similar actions simultaneously took place across the UK and Ireland, carried out by GI members from various branches of the group.

The public display was carried out less than 24 hours after GI members took part in a “freedom march” outside City Hall, where riot police were called in to stand between barricades separating GI and opposition supporters made up of Belfast Anti-Fascists, several councillors and citizens.

Naomi Green of Belfast Islamic Centre hit out at Sunday’s “dangerous stunt” and pointed out that only a “handful” of women here wear niqabs - primarily Saudis who have come to study or work in our hospitals.

“Ethnic minorities make up less than 1% of the population and Muslims less than 0.4% there is no minority politicians in NI, so any idea that we are taking over is quite frankly paranoid nonsense,” she added.

“The Muslim community here is not only small but well integrated. These people are determined to cause hurt and division where there is none.

“So this stunt is attention-seeking xenophobia hiding behind a 'concern' that isn't even culturally relevant here.”

Ms Green said such far-right groups “wrap up their rhetoric” with “fancy videos” and polite language, precisely what is “so dangerous about them”.

“Strip it back to the bare bones and they essentially want ethnic purity and ethnic cleansing.”

Saturday’s 'UK Freedom March' was made up of around 100 supporters, including independent councillor Jolene Bunting, travelled from Sandy Row to City Hall, where it was greeted by 500 counter-demonstrators.

A similar parade took place in Belfast two weeks ago in support of former EDL leader and convicted mortgage-fraudster Tommy Robinson. GI flags were pictured at both events.

Police said Saturday's protest “passed with a few incidents of minor disorder” and confirmed a number of smoke bombs were ignited.

Other locations part of Generation Identity’s “ban the burqa” campaign include: London, Manchester, Bath, Folkestone, Canterbury Edinburgh and Dublin.

“Eventually, you would be able to mistake some places In the UK for areas of Saudi Arabia or Iran. The people support it, the parties support it [the banning of such dress],” GI wrote in a tweet, 'liked' by Cllr Bunting.

NI mainstream political parties do not support banning such Islamic dress here and many elected representatives from such parties attended Saturday’s counter-demonstration.

SDLP representative Donal Lyons said it was “ironic” the two weeks ago GI were “posing as champions of free speech” and now they are “trying to ban the free expression of faith”.

“The fact that they were declaring the innocence of Tommy Robinson, who pleaded guilty in his recent court case was nonsensical, but the fact that they’re now shouting for innocent people to be punished, is quite telling,” he added.

“It shows that the people behind this stunt only want to protect the rights of some and think the actions of others need to be banned. They’ve decided certain people fit their idea of what Belfast should be and that certain people don’t.”

Mr Lyons said this was the “original evil of the far right”; that some communities are considered as ‘fitting in’ and others not.

“When it comes to religion; if it is freely chosen and not harmful to others, any individual should be free to practice their faith as they see fit.”

Just days prior to the weekend's events, Facebook banned dozens of GI’s pages from across Europe, including their UK and Ireland pages, from the platform for violating their policies with “extremist content”.

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