Lord Mayor Habib Rahman has spoken out after being subjected to racist abuse. Pic credit: NCJ Media
Habib Rahman was left “infuriated to the core” as he and others were targeted with verbal abuse and had fireworks aimed at them outside a mosque in the West End at the weekend.
The Labour councillor, who became the city’s first citizen earlier this year, says that a group of seven or eight youths caused trouble as he arrived for prayers shortly before 8pm on Saturday.
After initially thinking the teenagers were just hanging around, he then heard the sizzle of a rocket being lit and saw it fired directly at a couple of people going into the mosque – with one shot narrowly missing an elderly man.
Coun Rahman approached the youths, who then fled as they hurled racist abuse at him, including telling him to “go back where you came from”.
Having called the police, he then heard more rockets being let off as he was inside praying and again confronted the group as he left the mosque – at which point he was subjected to more insults and had a rocket aimed straight at him, while several more missiles were also fired towards worshippers and at the mosque itself.
The lord mayor, who has vowed to use his year in office to fight against racism and hate crime, said the incident could have caused “serious harm” if one of the fireworks had exploded directly in front of someone.
He added: “It was a horrible situation, it was absolutely sickening. I was scared and it has infuriated me to the core.
“Where on Earth have these kids picked up these bigoted, racist thoughts? Muslim people have been living in this area since long before these kids were born.
“They have contributed and continue to contribute in so many ways to making the area better for us all.
“When I came home I told my sons that if they ever behaved in that kind of way then I would disown them.”
The Elswick councillor moved to Newcastle with his mother and brothers from Bangladesh in 1985 at the age of 12 and suffered through shocking racist abuse as he grew up in the city.
His father, Azizur, was brutally killed just 10 days after he had arrived on Tyneside in 1977, stabbed by a customer in the Wallsend takeaway where he worked.
Coun Rahman, who had attended a rally to support Afghan refugees in Newcastle earlier on Saturday, has reiterated that Newcastle is now a far more tolerant place than it was once – but says the experience outside the mosque shows there remains work to do.
He added: “It has been a long time since I have experienced something like this personally. I have to say that it was nothing compared to the verbal and physical abuse that I suffered in the past.
“Newcastle is a much more tolerant and safe city for people of colour now. But racism and hate crime still exist and here is the evidence of that.
“The only way we will deal with this problem and eliminate racism from our society is if everyone plays their part.”
Coun Rahman has called for more support to fight the “deadly disease” of racism through organisations such as Show Racism the Red Card, one of the charities he is raising money for during his term as lord mayor.
He added: “Bigoted views are best dealt with through education. If these kids get into their 20s and 30s still holding these views then God help them, they will be the ones losing out and we as a society will not have done enough. We need to find ways to educate and help them.”
Northumbria Police neighbourhood inspector Andrew Stephenson said: “This type of behaviour, committed by the overwhelming minority, is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Not only have they damaged property but they could have seriously injured someone.
“Officers are working closely with representatives across the local community and increased patrols will take place in the area as officers carry out enquiries.
“Anyone with information is asked to contact police on 101 quoting log NP-20210904-0903.”