Last Saturday, I had the privilege of being part of a beautiful, living, breathing manifestation of solidarity. ‘Pegida’ (along with the remnants of the National Front, the BNP and the EDL) were in Toon and were met by around 3,000 people from across the North East, who had gathered in the largest anti-fascist demonstration our region has seen since the 1930s.
From the platform, more than 20 speakers, all from different backgrounds affirmed their opposition to the politics of hate and division and expressed their determination to stand with Newcastle’s Muslims, who were the target of this particular fascist march.
Although I’ve only got room for a few of my personal highlights, it must be said that each speaker made an excellent contribution. Opening the rally was local MP Chi Onwurah, who spoke movingly of her experiences growing up at at time when the National Front peddled its hatred and lies. She recalled how much it had meant to her to receive the support and solidarity of those Tynesiders who opposed the politics of racism. German SPD MEP Arne Lietz quoted the immortal words of Pastor Niemöller, reminding all of us that although today it is Muslims who are the fascists’ favoured scapegoat, tomorrow it will be us. Davey Hopper of the Durham Miners’ Association, recalled the North East’s proud tradition of fighting fascism and described the occasion as the most uplifting demonstration he had ever attended, as the Durham Area miners banner depicting the late Tony Benn and Davey Guy, was proudly held aloft. A representative of the local Jewish community spoke of his outrage that Pegida would dare to infringe upon the rights of his fellow believers in the God of Abraham. Laura Pidcock from Show Racism the Red Card implored us not just to challenge prejudice where we encounter it but to challenge our own prejudices too. Bill from Newcastle United supporters trust spoke passionately, expressing his outrage that anyone could try and say that Papiss Cisse and Moussa Sissoko were not true Geordies. And in a climate where Islam is misrepresented and vilified, it was brilliant that a young Muslim man had the opportunity to reaffirm the universalist and anti-racist values at the heart of his faith, quoting from the Prophet Muhammad that: ‘An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over white – except by piety and good deeds.’
The theme that was returned to time and again was that the social problems which blight the North East are real enough, but the responsibility lies not with migrants, but with those at the top of society. It is they who laid waste to our industries and who have created a society scarred by mass unemployment, food banks and poverty pay. The display of unity showed beyond all doubt that the disingenuous notion peddled by racists, that LGBT people, women and all those who define themselves as ‘progressives’ should join in the chorus of hate and fear towards Muslims – because ‘they hate and fear you’ – hadn’t fooled anyone.
The rally ended with Newcastle city councillor Dipu Ahad thanking Pegida for bringing Newcastle together to the chant of ‘Newcastle, united, will never be defeated!’ And it surely can’t have been coincidence that just hours later, Cisse got the winner against Villa.