During his visit to the UK for the Nato summit, President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is planning to open the Cambridge Central Mosque. As Zareen Taj reports, Cambridge Muslims and other residents are planning to make it clear he is not welcome.
The Nato summit has brought Presidents Trump and Erdoğan to the UK this week. Their visit has already been met with huge protests in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow. On Thursday 5 December, residents of Cambridge will also be protesting in the light of an invitation to Erdoğan to open the new Cambridge Central Mosque.
Several organisations and a growing number of individuals have signed a letter initiated by Muslims Against Erdogan. As the letter explains, ‘UK Muslim residents and particularly of Cambridgeshire and student groups and societies at the universities and colleges in Cambridge’ are protesting against the decision to invite Erdoğan. The letter, which can be signed directly, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by messaging the Cambridge Stop the War facebook page, highlights the way Erdoğan’s government is:
currently systematically abusing the human rights of Muslims and other religious and ethnic minorities alike living within Turkish borders, as well as engaging in cross-border wars of aggression and military operations against majority Kurdish regions of Syria and Iraq. In the last five years alone, the Turkish state’s indiscriminate killing sprees resulted in the death of thousands of Muslim Kurds in three countries.
Local shops in the area have been asked to close for the time of the visit. Mill Road will be closed from Coleridge Road to Brooks Road. Shopkeepers are disgusted that the war criminal is coming to Cambridge. One shopkeeper, who will be joining the protest on Thursday, said: ‘He has killed children. Just this week, children were killed. How can he come show his face here?’
Economically the new mosque is tied to Turkish organisations who have supplied the vital funding to make the vision of an eco-mosque a reality. Clearly such a high profile mosque is bound to be used to score points for Erdoğan’s government. However, as the signatories of the letter write:
The Cambridge Central Mosque belongs to all Muslims, and in particular the Cambridgeshire residents, and it must therefore represent the people not a state or a political organisation. Allowing the mosque to be used as a propaganda platform by a state or a government will certainly displease God (SWT) and compromise His house for worship, as well as marring the Muslim image in the UK and particularly of that of Cambridge Muslims. We reject the use of God’s house and message of Islam to be hijacked by any group, such as the Turkish state.
There are particular sensitivities at play. The organisers of the demonstration are determined that the protests should not be allowed to give any ammunition to those (for instance, on the far right) who would wish to exploit a protest against a visit to a mosque for Islamophobic purposes. This is especially important in the light of the recent London Bridge attacks, in which two young people from Cambridge were killed. The Turkish government also has a long track record of smearing Kurdish demonstrators as anti-Islamic terrorists.
The demonstration will therefore be held in the centre of town, on King’s Parade. The planning has been an impressive example of how various local groups can work together to organise a peaceful but effective action to stand up against oppression and to stand up in support of those struggling for democracy, equality and freedom.
A Cambridge protest is planned to oppose President Erdoğan’s visit to the city on Thursday 5 December. Facebook event here. The demonstration will gather at 1pm on King’s Parade. Hosted by Cambridge STW, Cambridge Kurdistan Solidarity, Cambridge Social Ecology and Cambridge rs21.