Cazenove Blog

Your local Liberal Democrat Councillors for the Cazenove Ward in Hackney. Please feel free to make comments and talk about issues in Cazenove, Hackney, London, UK, Europe, the World and beyond!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Unite & Conquer

After the murder of Lee Rigby, Muslim communities around the UK found themselves under threat.  Yet in Hackney, three Lib Dem councillors have helped create links between communities that provide friendship and protection, writes Matt Withers for ADLIB Magazine

TWO Jews and a Muslim walk into a town hall. Don’t worry, it’s not a joke. Although it does provide something to smile about.

Ian Sharer, Abraham Jacobson and Dawood Akhoon are the only three Liberal Democrat members of Hackney Council in East London, all representing ethnically diverse Cazenove ward. Sharer and Jacobson are Jewish, while Akhoon is a Muslim.

While Cazenove is a rich mix (the most recent census put its population of 10,504 at a third Jewish, third Muslim and third other) the amount of cohesion between the communities is one which other wards nationwide would envy. It’s no coincidence, however, but in large part the result of the three councillors’ hard work in bringing the community together - from small things such as Jews attending meetings to mosques to earlier this year when, following the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby and the subsequent threats to mosques and Islamic centres, it was Jewish volunteers who took to the streets to defend them.

On a warm evening in Hackney Town Hall, 45-year-old Akhoon reflects on a part of East London he describes as “unique”.
“I love it,” he says. “Hackney’s a really, really nice place, but Cazenove is one of the nicest places you can ever live. And it’s not just a Jewish community, we’ve got the 'St Thomas Church' on Oldhill Street.  When the Muslim community started to grow and we needed more space for young people, youth centres and things like that.   The Rector of St Thomas opened up the crypt downstairs and told us we could have the area for cricket, keep fit, the whole lot."

“That’s where it started. We’ve always had other communities come in and open up their doors. David Cameron talks about the Big Society, but the Big Society was going on ages ago, years before. He was in nappies when it began.”

All three councillors hold surgery meetings for members of all faiths and none at North London Muslim Community Centre. Other ad hoc meetings have taken place in the local synagogues.

“We will be out dropping off leaflets,” says Akhoon, “then I'll suddenly realise it's 1:30pm and I’ve got to pop in to pray. So, Ian will come into the mosque and he’ll sit in the back while I am praying. Because at the end of the day it’s a place of worship.”

Sharer, 68 and the leader of the Lib Dems on the council, agrees.
 “If you live in an orthodox area and you are a religious person, then why wouldn’t you respect the orthodox Muslim living next door, the orthodox Jew across the road, the regular churchgoer? What’s not to like about it?” he wonders. “He’s doing the same as you; he’s praying to God." 

Cazenove is seen as a model for strong inter-faith relations and Sharer recalls a  visit from Baroness Warsi and members from the now-defunct Commission for Racial Equality to the ward in 2011.  "They were trying to work out what we were doing that wasn't happening up north, where there have been riots," he says.  

44-year-old Jacobson – not only Jewish but an exiled northerner – nods.  “You can have religion and still respect the right for people to have alternative beliefs.  That’s the main thing,” he says. “Yes, we’re religiously divided but we’re all English, we’re all one and the same and we all help each other out.”

But all that probably wouldn’t have brought this tiny corner to the attention of the international Jewish press – in Israel, the US and further afield – had it not been for the knock-on effects of an horrific incident 11 miles away, the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich.

For the first time, mosques and Islamic centres in the area began hearing of threats against them in retribution for Drummer Rigby’s death.  Not used to dealing with such a situation, the Muslim community looked within its own area for help.

“We had never encountered that sort of hate towards Islam,” says Akhoon. “When you look on Facebook, when you look on Twitter, when you look at the terrorist attacks that have been committed on mosques . You’ve had people turn around and say ‘behead Muslim children’.

“But the thing is, the Jewish community, sadly, has always encountered that sort of stuff. It’s not new. Ian has always told me about the security at synagogues and places of worship and community centres. The mosque was looking at something. What do we do to protect our places of worship, what do we do to protect our worshippers, what do we do to protect our community? So we said, let’s speak to our Jewish friends here and see what they can come up with. And that’s where they came up with this initiative.”

Since 2005, the local Jewish community has had its own civilian volunteer patrol, the Shomrim (“guards” in Hebrew”). Both licensed and trained by the police – though with no power to arrest – they are often the first port of call for locals in trouble. Only a day after the Woolwich attack, they offered their services to the Muslim Community.

“The agreement is that they're already going to patrol and protect synagogues, they also go and see our mosques and schools too." says Akhoon.

“It’s ongoing, but the Muslim community is also learning from our Jewish colleagues and hopefully we can take on the mantle. Hopefully it’s opened up to all communities in Cazenove. At the end of the day it’s like neighbourhood watch plus. Because that’s all it is:  looking out for our neighbours."

Thinking about the way in which the councillors work tirelessly to bring the communities together, he says:  “In a way, in a micro-way, we do seem to be making a difference.” He then checks himself and says more confidently:  “We are making a difference!”

He adds: “We are part of the fabric of this society. We are taking a stand. We are getting involved. We’re open to every member of the community whether you have a faith or not. We’ll work with everybody."

"This is our contribution to society, and it works.  If this was replicated across the country I'm sure it would solve half the problems that are going on because it is just about hating ignorance, that's all it is about."

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Come Along To Your Local Ward Forum - Tuesday 08th October 2013, 7:00 pm.

Come and meet other residents and your Councillors, to discuss local issues and work together on things that matter in our Community.


  Please use the Jubilee Primary School, Filey Ave, London N16 6NR. 

Please use the Cazenove Rd entrance.   

Fully accessible venue, refreshments provided.

Tell us what matters to you most in Cazenove - If you've got a particular idea in mind or an idea for a local project, we can discuss how it might be moved forward.

So see you there!