Reporter: Jan Harwood
Date online: 29 January 2007
The Ramadhan Foundation, an organisation that seeks to unite the Muslim community and enhance a better understanding between Muslims and non Muslims, visited Rochdale on Sunday 28 January with a line-up of high-profile guest speakers at an event entitled ‘Hidden Agendas’. Rochdale MP Paul Rowen spoke alongside, amongst others, former Labour MP Tony Benn and controversial journalist and anti-war campaigner Yvonne Ridley.
Well over hundred people attended the event the event at Rochdale Town Hall and heard the speakers air their views on various issues that affect the Muslim community in the UK; however, a major disappointment was that MP George Galloway could not attend due to illness.
Rochdale Member of Parliament Paul Rowen opened proceedings by welcoming everyone to his town and he spoke of the relative success that Rochdale has enjoyed in race relations. “I am pleased to represent Rochdale as a multicultural town,” he said. “We are different from surrounding towns, in that we have not had large scale problems of racial disagreement. Things are not perfect in Rochdale but a crucial difference between us and other towns is that we have engaged in dialogue with each other, between the different communities. Today is an important part of that dialogue and I’m glad to be sharing a platform with the other speakers.
Mr Rowen continued by highlighting his party’s critical stance of the war in Iraq and of his belief that: “Tony Blair was destabilising the whole of the Middle East”. He ended his short introductory speech by saying that being British is about “respect, loyalty and belief in freedom.” “I look forward to engaging in these issues on behalf of Rochdale,” he said before leaving the platform to the day’s star guest speaker Tony Benn who spoke about the war and the future for the human race.
The Labour MP of fifty years, who retired in 2001 to "devote more time to politics", spoke how the war in the Middle East was an imperial war, “a war for oil and a war for power”, rather than a war on terrorism or a war for democracy. Mid-way through his speech he made what he called his ‘main point’. He told the audience: “This generation has a choice to make that no other generation has had to make in human history. In the old days a man could kill one man or a few men but this generation could destroy the human race, this is a heavy responsibility.
“But this generation also has the capacity to resolve the issues of the human race with the money and technology that is available. We have a choice to destroy or to build. We ask a moral question, what do we use the technology available to us for? We have to make the right moral choice. We can use Rochdale as an example, the birthplace of the Co-operative movement, we must co-operate not compete against each other.”
Amongst the many organisations that were represented during the afternoon were United against Drugs, a Rochdale based movement that aims to combat drugs in Muslim communities in the borough. Shahid Sabir spoke of how people’s reluctance to acknowledge the problem led to “dealers doing business in broad daylight and kids as young as 12 being used as runners.” Since its inception United against Drugs has aided in the arrest of three major dealers in the Rochdale area and an appearance on BBC Radio 5 Live has boosted its profile as it continues the fight against drugs in the town.
The five hour event was drawn to a close by speeches from Yvonne Ridley, the former Sunday Express journalist and now political editor of the Islam Channel, Mohamed Ali, Chief Executive of the Islam Channel and Palestinian campaigner Dr Azzam Tamimi.