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Terror in Tipton: Explaining the Uneasy Relationship the Midlands Has With Mosques

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Sadly I wasn't surprised when I heard that there was another attack on a mosque in the Midlands last Friday.

Little more than a week ago, swastikas along with the acronyms EDL, NF and KKK (English Defence League, National Front and Klu Klux Klan respectively) were sprayed onto the Redditch Central Mosque. A week earlier, an unexploded bomb was found outside the Aisha Mosque and Islamic Centre in Walsall.

Today the stakes were raised even more when what appears to be a nail bomb exploded behind the Kanz-ul-Iman Muslim Welfare Association Central Jamia Mosque in Tipton. Treated by West Midlands Police as a "terrorist incident", it would be wrong to speculate about who was behind it and why the blast happened today. Still, it will not have gone unnoticed that the blast occurred just hours after the funeral of Lee Rigby, the serviceman brutally murdered on the streets of Woolwich last month.

Since Woolwich, the Government funded Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) third party monitoring service has recorded more than 20 attacks on mosques across the UK. But in the Midlands, attacks and backlashes against mosques has been ongoing for a good number of years. As my research has shown, this is because ordinary people see them as being against "our" culture and "our" way of life, against who "we" think "we" are and what "we" stand for; something a good number of those active within the far-right have been quick to latch onto and exploit in order to exacerbate community tensions.

Whilst Birmingham has been a notable exception to this Midlands phenomenon, this opposition has been evident in various locations arouund the major cities: Hanley, Nuneaton and Solihull as also Redditch more recently. But this has been most prominent in the "Black Country", the former industrialised area to the north west of Birmingham.

Most significant has been the fraught and fractious fallout from the proposed 'super-mosque' in Dudley, something that has been ongoing for more than a decade and is little more than a mile away from the mosque in Tipton. In the four years I have been looking at the Black Country, far-right activity has been rife. In Dudley, the EDL has organised two of its largest marches whilst on another occasion, supporters barricaded themselves into a building with the intention of broadcasting the Islamic call to prayer five times a day. Aside from the EDL, the British National Party has won seats on the local council as have the UK independence Party, both doing so on the back of explicit anti-mosque campaigns.

Elsewhere in the Black Country, the Cradley Heath mosque has been subjected to two separate arson attacks, the second burning the mosque to the ground. In nearby Langley, a building set to be taken over by the local Muslim organisation was similarly razed to the ground.

In Tipton, one anti-racism campaigner I met explained how there was a direct link between the far-right and the rising levels of Islamophobic incidents. As she put it:

"People have already got this fear of Muslims...and I think the far-right have just tapped into that. It's the easy way to get into people's heads. You can kind of tap into that, then drip-feed other things later when you've kind of got it all worked out".

What is striking about Tipton and the immediate surrounds is just how impacting the far-right has been. Not only have different far-rights groups found local political success but increasing activity at street level has also been evident. As another anti-racism campaigner from the area told me, it wasn't "that long ago" that the Ku Klux Klan were burning crosses on one estate. This street level activity is also evident in the way in which the annual St George's Parade, once the largest in England, was hijacked by the far-right. In 2008 for example, leading figures from the BNP marched alongside pipe and drum bands linked to loyalist paramilitary groups from Northern Ireland . Unsurprisingly, Sandwell Council cut the parade's funding the following year.

In the same way I wasn't surprised by another attack on a mosque in the Midlands, I'm sure I won't be surprised if those behind the attack didn't have some connection with an extremely active far-right.