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Prominent Leeds MPs to Debate Brexit, Representing the Working Class and Lessons from the 2017 Election

What kind of Brexit should we aim for? Which political party represents the working class today? and what can we learn from the 2017 General Election? Prominent Leeds MPs, including Hilary Benn and Alex Sobel, will lead topical debates at Leeds Beckett University’s 2017 Festival of Politics and International Relations.

The annual public event, which will take place across the University’s City Campus from Monday 13 to Friday 17 November, consists of a range of talks and debates, providing opportunities for the discussion of key political issues and policy challenges facing our world today.

The festival is organised by the Politics and International Relations group within the School of Social Sciences at Leeds Beckett.

The week-long programme will culminate in an afternoon of talks led by local Leeds MPs on Friday 17 November at the city centre Calverley Building. Hilary Benn, Labour MP for Leeds Central and Chair of the House of Commons Committee on Exiting the European Union, will debate Is a ‘progressive Brexit’ possible? Alec Shelbrooke, Conservative MP for Elmet and Rothwell and Vice Chairman (International) of the Conservative Party, will consider Which political party, if any, represents the working class today?; and Alex Sobel, Labour MP for Leeds NW and Councillor for the Moortown ward in Leeds, will present Lessons from the 2017 General Election.

Friday 17 November will also see the launch of a new book, Political Ideologies, by Leeds Beckett University academics, and a session to find out more about the subjects of Politics and International Relations and studying at university.

For full details, and to book onto any of the events, please visit

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Experts Discuss Initiative for Peace and Non-Violence


Marie Dennis

Leading international peace and non-violence experts, including key contributors to the Pope’s initiative for non-violence, are in Leeds in October to share their visions of the future.

On Tuesday 3rd October, Marie Dennis (who serves on the steering committee of the Catholic Peacebuilding Network and has previously served on the White House Task Force on Global Poverty and Development), and Maria Stephen (whose role at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) focuses on the dynamics of civil resistance, violent conflict prevention and democratic development), will present ‘Non-violence works! An opportunity for the Christian community to engage in creative peacemaking’.

Maria Stephan

They will share their experience, including their work on the joint Vatican and Pax Christi International initiative to incorporate non-violence teachings into the Catholic Church’s approach to international conflict and war. Pax Christi International is a global Catholic peace movement working worldwide to establish peace, respect for human rights, and justice and reconciliation.

To book a place, please visit

George Lakey

On Friday 6th October, American activist and writer on non-violence, George Lakey,  presents ‘A divided Britain: What can we learn from the Nordics?’.

The talk will see him draw on his latest book, Viking Economics: How the Scandinavians got it right and how we can, too, which takes a radical view of how we approach division and inequality and the responses we can make.

George’s lecture is the first in a new annual lecture series on non-violence in memory of Howard Clark, a pacifist and leader in the worldwide movement to replace violent struggle with non-violent conflict. Howard devoted himself to teaching and training people in the strategy and the art of non-violent action.

To book a place, please visit

Both talks are free and take place at Leeds Beckett University’s city centre Rose Bowl from 5.30-7.30pm.

There will also be a workshop for A Level and university students with Marie Dennis and Maria Stephan on Tuesday 3 October, 2-4pm. To book a place, or for any other queries, please email Dr Rachel Julian at




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500 UK Imams’ Public Message to Violent Extremists

UK imams came together yesterday to condemn the recent atrocities in Manchester and London and make clear that there is no religious justification in the taking of innocent lives.

Imams, at an event near London Bridge, paid tribute to those killed in the terror attacks and speak out strongly against those who commit them. A statement condemning extremism and terrorist violence, endorsed by 500 British Imams from all over the UK, was delivered.

The Imams also set out what they will be doing within their communities and mosques to challenge, robustly and precisely, the perverted interpretation of Islam that is put forward by ISIS and other extremist groups. The Imams will also urge people to continue to report to the authorities anyone expressing sympathy with violent extremism.
They will reiterate their commitment to not accepting terrorists in life or death by refusing to perform funeral prayers for terrorists.

“We want to send a clear message to any Muslim attracted to violent extremism. This is forbidden by your religion,” said Imam Qari Asim, spokesperson for the British Muslim Forum and Imam of the Leeds Makkah mosque. “There is no justification in Islam for taking innocent life. If you follow this path you are stepping away from Islam to a dark and godless place. Your views are not welcome
in our mosques or in our communities. This is not a path to heaven – think of the pain you will cause, the lives you will destroy. Please, think again.”

“Most Muslims in Britain know full well that the extremists are not good Muslims,” said Shaykh Shahid Raza, a trustee of the British Muslim Forum. “But we know that there are individuals and organisations trying to sell a perverted version of Islam to impressionable young people. We want to make very clear, as Islamic scholars and leaders, that they are wrong. The violent and hate-filled
views they hold are not Islamic.”

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Leeds Council of Mosques Condemns Manchester Attacks


To the families of the victims and the injured in Manchester

The Leeds Council of Mosques (LCM) condemns, in the strongest terms, the cowardly act perpetrated on the night of 22nd May 2017 at the Manchester Arena. We believe those who have undertaken this atrocity and, if proven, the networks working to indoctrinate individuals to kill innocent citizens, should face the full force of the Law and be punished in accordance with British anti-terrorism laws.

As representatives of Leeds Mosques, we send our deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of those who have perished through this heinous act and we hope those who were injured, make a full and rapid recovery from their injuries.

In times of adversity, unity and common purpose are the only constructive way forward, we must therefore strive even harder to ensure this tragedy is not exploited by those who want to create division and animosity within our communities but instead speak with one voice and drive out intolerance from our communities irrespective of the religion, race and ethnicity of the culprits.



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General Election 2017- Getting Out the Youth Vote


By Imam Qari Asim, MBE

Imam, Makkah Mosque Leeds

@Qari Asim


On Thursday 8 June, Britain will elect its new government. But millions of young people will not vote, too many are still not on the electoral register.


It is encouraging to see that in the last week, applications to register have exceeded 100,000. Of those applying to vote each day, nearly 40% have been under-25s. However, how many of those applicants are from ethnic minorities is not known. Before the last general election, 186,000 missed the register to vote deadline. To vote in this General Election, first time voters need to register by 11:59pm on 22 May.


The voting apathy troubles me greatly, particularly when I see young people in the Middle East and Africa striving, at times risking their lives, to have the democratic right to elect their governments.


Therefore, since the announcement of the snap election, I have been campaigning to get more and more young people to register to vote. Last week, faith leaders participated in a #MyFaithMyVote social media initiative to urge people of all faiths to get behind a voter registration drive, showing that those of faith want to help shape the direction of the country alongside others in society. Hundreds of mosques, last Friday, encouraged their congregations to register to vote and ensure their voices are heard.


When I talk to young people about exercising the hard-won democratic right, I often hear them say: “my vote will not make any difference”, “the political parties are all as bad as each other”; “I don’t understand what I am voting for”; “the parties are more interested in getting into power than caring about young people.” etc. Regrettably, young people do not realise this act of disengagement immediately becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.


Young people and the black and minority ethnic (“BME”) voters are particularly sour about elections. This decline in voting could be seen as a democratic crisis. The reality is that a large percentage of young people are politically engaged. But, first, the conventional metrics used to measure their involvement do not include, among other things, non-electoral civic engagement, and secondly, political parties are not engaging with young people on their priorities. The problem does not necessarily rest with potential voters, rather the political elite.


We are seeing, for example, a lot of young people participating in Labour’s rallies – whether or not they will vote for Labour remains to be seen. The Scottish independence referendum showed that people respond to politics and/or policies when they say something emotional about the world they live in –their sense of belonging, rootedness, control, jobs. The challenge is to keep such voters politically engaged when they might feel disillusioned. Political parties need to earn back the trust and interest of the disengaged voters.


Ethnic minorities traditionally voted for Labour but now there is no such thing as block vote. The votes are now split by ethnicity, class and region, according to Runnymede Trust’s study into Ethnic Minority British Election February 2012.


Recent research carried out by Operation Black Vote, shows that 31 of the 50 most marginal seats have significant BME populations that can be critical to   winning those seats.


In Yorkshire a number of Labour seats can easily be lost if the UKIP members vote for conservatives. The BME vote is, therefore, crucial in some of the fiercest battlegrounds of this General Election.


The major BME community is Muslim. There are around three million Muslims in this country and nearly half of the population is under the age of 25. Muslims are likely to have the highest number of first time voters. Parties should be fighting over those votes: first time voters are less encumbered by the baggage of existing party allegiance.


The engagement with millions of Muslims requires nuanced and tailored strategy. The polls have shown that Muslim voters, to an extent, have similar political concerns as their white British peers – thriving economy, lower taxes, a strong NHS, controlled immigration, and law and order.


In addition, British Muslims have distinctive political concerns around safety and security in their everyday lives compared to their ethnic and faith peers. These are not necessarily only Muslim issues but societal issues, which are for the common good of all.


The growing level of Islamophobia and the rise in Far Right sentiments towards Muslims is of immense concern to the community. From London Mayoral elections to Brexit; Trump’s journey to the White House to Le Pen’s political defeat, these political campaigns seem to have legitimised hatred and bigotry towards Muslims. What is most painful for Muslims is that there has not been strong condemnation of such anti-Muslim hatred by the political elite.


Our politicians must take anti-Muslim hatred seriously and stamp it out of political rhetoric and actions. Those who fuel hatred against any ethnic or faith minority must be publically challenged. Muslims are searching for a political leadership that will do everything in its power to stop long-simmering anti-Muslim hatred.


UKIP was destroyed in the local elections earlier this month and, thankfully, are not expected to gain any seats in the General Election, yet instead of focusing on economic reforms to appeal to their voters who are economically pessimistic and struggling UKIP has put banning the burqa at the core of its election campaign. This shows that the Far Right movements want to reinforce the us-v-them narrative in our political discourse.


Amongst the BME communities, Muslims are the least well-resourced and somewhat more isolated section of the community, and young Muslims are looking to vote for those parties that will promise to invest in their neighbourhoods, create job opportunities and bring prosperity to their lives, leading to better economic and social integration.


To young people, I say that they must exercise their democratic right to have their say in shaping the direction of their country; if they have any political grievances, now is an opportunity to engage and influence issues democratically. There is no doubt that the repercussions of this General Election will be felt for many years, so let’s play our role in securing a better future.

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Statement on Westminster Terror Attack


Qari Asim, MBE, Imam of Leeds Makkah Mosque

“Today, London has witnessed horrific and depraved acts of murder.

The terrorist attack was designed to maximize casualties and create terror and chaos at the very heart of the capital and at the home of British democracy.

We must be clear that those who take innocent lives are not following the teachings of any religion and have no regard for any religion or humanity. These depraved terrorists are not following a path to paradise, as in Islam the taking of a single innocent life is considered as being akin to the killing of the whole of humanity.

This vile attack is an attack on all of us, regardless of race or religion. We must stand united against such extreme, evil and distorted ideologies and work together to defeat terrorism in all its forms.

The aim of terrorist attacks such as these is to divide communities and incite hatred amongst people of different beliefs and backgrounds. We have already seen vile opportunists using the victims of the Westminster terrorist attack to spread anti-Muslim hatred. I urge communities to remain united and even more determined to eradicate all forms of terrorism.

I am deeply saddened by the loss of lives at Westminster and express full solidarity with the victims of the attack. I convey my sincere condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives.”

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Public Meeting Hosted by Leeds for Europe


 Leeds for Europe, a group campaigning for Britain to remain in the European Union, is hosting a public meeting ‘Brexit – What Next?’ on Saturday 18th March, 2pm in the Council Chamber of Leeds Civic Hall.

The meeting will discuss the likely implications of a UK exit from the European Union and what needs to be done to avert a damaging ‘Hard Brexit’. The speakers will be Richard Corbett MEP and Professor Michael Dougan, an expert on European Union Law from the University of Liverpool. They will speak for about forty minutes, after which there will be time for questions.

There will also be a brief presentation by Leeds for Europe. Founded in October 2016 as a Facebook Group, the group has grown rapidly and now meets regularly and campaigns against Brexit in the city centre every Saturday. It is affiliated to Britain for Europe and is in the process of affiliating to the European Movement.



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Playhouse Awarded Grant to Develop Festival of Theatre & Dementia

Singing session for people living with dementia Photography by Anthony Robling (4)

West Yorkshire Playhouse has been awarded £99,950 by Arts Council England National Lottery funding to produce a Festival of Theatre and Dementia.

Exploring the experience of living with dementia through creative activity, the Festival will create new opportunities for older people living with dementia, collaborating with them as curators and performers. People living with dementia will play integral roles in shaping the Festival, including its events and performances and how it reaches different communities around Leeds, West Yorkshire and beyond.

“This award builds on our reputation as the UK’s foremost dementia friendly theatre, having introduced the world’s first dementia friendly performance in 2014”, said James Brining, West Yorkshire Playhouse Artistic Director. “The creative arts are a fantastic way of supporting people to express themselves and connect with others, and we are delighted to open up our theatre to people affected by this condition.”

Community Development Manager, Nicky Taylor, said: “We anticipate that the Festival will bring opportunities for discussion and debate about dementia, to challenge stereotypes, and to provide a creative and fun opportunity for people with dementia to explore making and enjoying theatre. While people with dementia face huge challenges, feeling connected and valued by their community can have an enormous impact on feelings of confidence and self-worth.”

West Yorkshire Playhouse will be working in partnership with non-arts partners and collaborating with visiting arts companies to deliver the Festival. This will include joining forces with education organisations on research and practice, as well as dementia care programmes, consultancies and steering groups.

The Festival will address many perspectives on dementia, from care providers to families, children and young people, academics and most importantly people living with dementia.

“When I was diagnosed with dementia I thought my life was over, but taking part in all the creative activities at the Playhouse has been brilliant”, said Bob Fulcher, who participates in the Playhouse’s programme of activities. “My life is actually better now than before I had dementia, because I’m taking opportunities and meeting people. My life is good.”

The Festival programme itself will offer a range of opportunities to engage, discuss and learn about what dementia means to us in today’s society, as well as a range of theatre productions. It will include workshops to engage care staff, families affected by dementia and artists making work about dementia; participatory sessions to engage people living with dementia creatively; panel events and discussions focusing on specific aspects of dementia; and dementia friendly training opportunities for care staff and families to support the creativity of people with dementia.

It will also include a new full length play, and three short plays created by people with dementia, which will be performed at the Playhouse before touring to care homes.

The Playhouse’s innovative approach has been recognised with national awards from the Alzheimer’s Society and National Dementia Care. Most recently, the Playhouse presented the ‘Strictly Ballroom – The Musical’ dementia friendly performance to over 450 attendees, as well as sharing it’s model with other UK theatres to encourage the development of a national movement of dementia friendly performances.

The grant will enable the Playhouse to develop its work with people living with dementia, as well as develop new partnerships with both arts and non-arts organisations and relationships within the community.



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Yorkshire Women of Achievement Awards – Recognising Amazing Women

Julie Russell and Jackie Roberts

Julie Russell and Jackie Roberts

Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice’s Yorkshire Women of Achievement Awards are all about unsung heroines – ordinary women doing extraordinary and inspiring things.

This year the awards take place on Friday 12th May at the Royal Armouries. Inspirational women across the region have been nominated in the categories of Business, Education, Sport, Young Achiever of the Year, the Jane Tomlinson Award for Courage, and the Community Impact Award.

There are also two exciting new categories this year – Arts, and Science and Technology. The Arts category recognises women in areas such as music, theatre, dance, art and literature; the Science and Technology category areas such as I.T. engineering, research and development, environmental work and the manufacturing industry.

Jackie Roberts won last year’s Jane Tomlinson Courage award, said the event was a unique occasion. A prominent supporter of the Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS) UK, Jackie has raised thousands of pounds for the charity following the drowning death of her daughter Megan in 2014 and has helped others who have suffered similar losses.

Megan was a student when she suddenly lost her life in the river”, said Jackie. “I took all my energy and love for my child and channeled it into doing something positive. You have to do whatever gets you through and that felt right for me. The Awards ceremony was amazing. It was one of the most emotional moments of my life. I was so shocked, tears in my eyes. It was overwhelming”.

Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice’s Women of Achievement Awards are one of Yorkshire’s most celebrated regional events. Each year the hospice spends £4.4m to provide specialist end of life and palliative care to people living in Leeds and receive only 44% in statutory funds for the care services it offers.

Booking for the event is now open. Tickets cost £60 each or £550 for a table of ten. For more information, contact Faye Cryer on 0113 203 3338 or visit

66Kate Love YWOA2016

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Comment from Qari Asim: Muslims are the New Scapegoats



As Trump closes the doors of the US to Muslims with his travel ban, British Muslims have opened the doors of their mosques to welcome everyone -irrespective of faith, belief, background and age.

This week has seen some of the largest marches in recent history, across the world, against Donald Trump’s executive order to temporarily block travel for immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries- Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. It also stopped the admission of all refugees to the US for 120 days. The weeklong protests are preceded still by the global Women’s March, immediately following Trump’s inauguration day.

The #MuslimBan order is bigoted and discriminatory; it is encouraging that a federal judge in Seattle has temporarily suspended the executive order. Trump’s fierce attempt to overturn the legal decision is disappointing. The order has resulted in fear, anxiety and stigmatisation of many families and homes because of their religion. The executive order is not only a full-frontal assault on the civil rights of Muslim citizens in the US, it is a dangerous and self-defeating policy. It purports the attacks of 9/11 as a rationale for such a replusive ban, whist exempting the countries of origin of all the hijackers who carried out that plot. However, no citizens from those war torn seven countries has ever committed terror on US soil. Terrorism doesn’t have a nationality; Since 9/11 more Americans have been killed by home grown right-wing extremists than by terrorists from any Muslim country.

The Muslim travel ban is insulting, divisive and regressive to say the least. The timing of the order is ironic as it was issued on the eve of holocaust memorial day. Holocaust did not begin with gas chambers, but with a culture of hate, the crime of indifference and conspiracies of silence. The treatment of Muslims parallels with how Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution were treated in the 1930s and 1940s are obvious. The prevailing rhetoric about Muslim refugees is identical to that used to demonize Jews during the World War II. The Daily Mail’s 2015 cartoon showing Muslim refugees as rats perfectly tracked a 1939 cartoon in a Viennese newspaper depicting Jews the same way. Prince Charles, in an address this week, said the lessons of World War II were in “increasing danger” of being forgotten.

The counterproductive travel ban is a gift to the extremists – both ISIS and ultra-right nationalists. Only a few hours after Trump’s order of ‘Muslim Ban’ came into effect, the Islamic Centre of Victoria in Texas was burned to the ground. The deadly shooting at Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre, resulting in the brutal murder of six Muslims is shining a light on the ugly truth of Islamophobia that Muslims have to experience. These attacks are not isolated incidents. Many mosques in the UK and across Europe have been attacked in recent years. Violent attacks such as these highlight the critical importance of combating anti-Muslim hatred which is being promoted by the far right in recent years by spreading misinformation about Muslims. Islamophobia has been legitimised by populist leaders in recent political campaigns. The British Government recognises the threat posed to places of worship including mosques, and last year announced a grant of £2.4m to help places of worship install security and safety equipment to prevent hate crime.

As the world feels under threat by ISIS affiliates, the Muslim communities not only feel threatened by ISIS affiliates but also by populist leaders and far right sympathisers – Muslims feel more vulnerable now than ever before. When populist leaders, including the President of the US, makes it acceptable to hate people, or bar people from entering the US merely on the grounds of their religion or identity, it is not surprising that Islamophobia is on the rise.

The outpouring of support thousands of people marching in their cities against the ‘Muslim ban’ has restored belief in humanity. Exposing the ill thought out policy of Trump and the sharing of immigrant stories by thousands have been heart-warming. Political and religious leaders, sports personalities, as well as celebrities issuing statements of support for Muslims, has been overwhelming. It was profoundly emotional and encouraging to see people of all faiths and none forming a human chain around a mosque in Haringey this Friday as a gesture of solidarity in the wake of a deadly attack in Quebec and Donald Trump’s travel ban.

At a time of increased concerns about a climate of hostility, mosques throughout Britain opened their doors last weekend (Sunday 5 February). #VisitMyMosque initiative is aimed at reducing misconceptions about Islam and Muslims in Britain. These events will also highlight how local mosques are helping their local communities and fostering communal relations. The senseless violence caused by terrorists, the slowly-creeping fascism, the politics of hatred and the ‘them’ -v-‘us’ narrative can only be defeated by communities standing together, protecting each other’s liberties and striving for the flourishing of humanity.

By Qari Asim, MBE
Senior Imam Makkah Mosque, Leeds

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