2 weeks after a national demonstration in London in support of the Palestinians in Gaza, Derby held its own version on 23 August 2014. The group of about 150 people, mainly Muslims, gathered outside the Jamia Mosque on Rose Hill Street in Arboretum/Normanton. The march left at about 11.30am and made its way up Normanton Road towards the Council Offices, where a rally was held. There were many speakers including people from the Mosque, Councillors, MP’s, and representatives from the organizing groups of Derby People’s Assembly and Indian Worker’s Association.
The London event was attended by about 50,000+ people walking through the streets to Hyde Park. This included 5 bus loads of protestors from Derby. It is the natural urge of people in this country to protest about anything that they feel strongly about regardless of whether it will remotely influence the decision makers. Nonetheless it makes sense to have a combined protest, on an international subject, in London ….so why have one in Derby.
It’s not really clear who this protest was aimed at. It was supported by Ranjit Banwait ( Leader of the Council), and a number of other Labour councilors and an MP, so it was not directed at those who represent the City. It was not explicitly supporting Hamas, but highlighting the plight of the Palestinian people in Gaza. Most right thinking people would support this cause.
A number of the speakers tried to suggest that it was encouraging that the protest was supported by a broad cross-section of the community. This was more based on wishful thinking, than reality. The vast majority were from the Muslim community. There were no Chinese, no Black African Caribbean, no East Europeans, very few white British people– it was not a cross section of the community. As the march passed the top of Normanton Road, a woman passer-by shouted at the top of her voice “Where are the women?! Where are the women?!”. There were women at the event, but noticeably few.
The march was headed by a few religious leaders from the mosque. A young man who saw the demonstration on St. Peter’s Street shouted to the general public, and at the marchers – “After what ISIS have done…fuck ‘em all!” Although distasteful, this was inevitable from some sections of the community.
Most of the speeches were bland, and predictable. They did not educate, enlighten or inspire. The event didn’t engage with anyone beyond the attendees – it felt unusually self-indulgent. Ranjit Banwait was slightly surreal when he said that “ We are going to walk in an olive branch of friendship”.
The most disappointing aspect about this event was the missed opportunity. It could have been original and creative about the way that Derby views the many conflicts in the world, not just Palestine. Innocent people and children are, sadly, being killed all over the world. Derby is home to people from nationalities who have associations with many of these wars. People throughout the city will have consciences beyond the well-protested Palestine issue. If next week there was a demonstration on the killings in Donetsk, East Ukraine, and then Syria, followed by Iraq, Sudan, Nigeria, Libya, Russia etc then we would be demonstrating our global credentials. It might actually be more engaging for a broader cross-section of people.
The images of Gaza are terrible, but no more so than other areas of the world. Palestine has become the cause celebre for the vocal political left, and anyone who suggests that “We are all Palestinians” to a non-Muslim/Palestinian audience is showing their naivite about how the wider public are thinking in these difficult times. It is more divisive than they may realise.
This should not be about arguing whose cause is more worthy, or chanting questionable rhetoric. We are entering potentially dangerous times. We should be involved in activities that promote cohesion across Derby, not ones that will alienate some parts of the City.