The Eagle has Landed - Condi Visit RoundUp and latest Blackburn STWC Press Release


Condeleezza Rice's visit to Liverpool and Blackburn, and the growing wave of protest has been playing across the News throughout the night. The coverage has been mixed, but perhaps the most revealing has been Bridget Kendall's report for the BBC 10 'o clock News.

I can't find a clip online, but she outlined the level of pressure that the visit is under, talking about concerns over security [just substitute the word protest].

She talks about the carefully crafted itinerary the Foreign Office has been working on for weeks unravelling, citing the withdrawl of the mosque invitation, the level of disquiet amongst parents at Pleckgate school, the interview the principal of LIPA gave saying he thought some of his students would be protesting when Condi arrives, and the more organised protests. They could also add the small but vocal protest that took place this evening to start the ball rolling.

Speaking from the airport after Condi landed she also talks about a considerable sense of unease amongst US officials, who are looking pretty uncertain!

All a far cry from Alabama, where Jack was warmly received as Condi's guest. The following might go some way to explaining why...

There is, of course, something fatuously ersatz about this return visit.
Blackburn is hardly to Mr Straw what Birmingham, Alabama, is to Dr Rice. Mr Straw was born in Buckhurst Hill in suburban Essex. He went to school in nearby Brentwood.

It is not known if any iconic moments in the history of the struggle of middle-class white boys occurred in that vicinity.

The story about the Masjid Al Hidayah Mosque has been spun throughout the day - in the media mainly by Jack Straw's erstwhile friend Ibrahim Master. The line has been that the visit was cancelled because of a planned "invasion" of the mosque by militant Muslims at dawn prayers at the behest of the Stop the War Coalition.

Actually, as we have been saying since last night, the invitation was withdrawn because it was made by a few people without consultation, who came under such pressure from the local community when the decision became known that they had to withdraw it.

This is explained by Abdul Hamid Quereshi, Chair of the Lancashire Council of Mosques in this PM interview, and further backed up by this latest press release.

DATED 30 MARCH 2006, 2330 hrs
Alex Martindale, Blackburn with Darwen Stop the War

Further to yesterday's momentous decision by the committee of Masjid Al Hidayah Mosque, Millham Street, Blackburn, to withdraw their invitation to Condoleezza Rice, we are pleased to include this statement from the Lancashire Council of Mosques, an umbrella organisation representing the majority of mosques in Blackburn and across Lancashire.

"The Lancashire Council of Mosques today announced that they have officially declined an invitation to attend an audience with Condoleezza Rice and Jack Straw at Blackburn Town Hall this Saturday as a mark of solidarity and respect towards the innocent victims of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is an issue which resonates profoundly with our members and indeed the very large peace and anti-war movement within the wider community with whom we share our concerns on current American and British foreign policy.

Dialogue and reasoned discussion is clearly something which has failed to influence the Bush administration in its pugnacious stance on foreign affairs thus far, and so we have refused the offer of a private audience with Ms Rice."

It was reported yesterday that Ibrahim Master, a former chair of the LCM, and close personal friend of Jack Straw, said that the proposed visit of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the Masjid Al Hidayah Mosque in Blackburn had been cancelled by the mosque committee because anti-war protesters had threatened to "invade the mosque during dawn prayers" (ITV/The Guardian/C4/others).

The local Stop the War group had done no such thing: on its website,, it published the following statement on the 28th March: "Members of the mosque call on their Muslim brothers to come and join them for Jummah prayers at 1pm on Friday 31st March, and for Fajar Falah on the morning of Saturday 1st April at 6am. Remain seated after prayers for a dignified and peaceful protest".

Moulana Hanif, one of the Islamic scholars who advised the mosque committee, said the following this evening: "No such invasion was planned. We believe the committee reached the decision because they realised how strong we and the local community felt about the issue". Once again, Blackburn with Darwen Stop the War extend our thanks to the mosque committee and all involved with arriving at the decision.

Due to the cancellation of the mosque visit, the protests planned by Stop the War against Rice's visit on Saturday will go ahead at a slightly altered time, assembling at Bangor Street Community Centre, Blackburn at 9am, and marching to Blackburn Town Hall on King William Street to arrive at 9.50am, where a rally will be held until 1.30pm. Confirmed speakers include Andrew Murray and Lindsey German of Stop the War Coalition, Yvonne Ridley of the Islam Channel, John Murphy of Blackburn & District Trades Council, Blackburn Councillor Dave Harling, Stephanie Haworth (mother of local soldier Aly-Joy Haworth), local Islamic scholars and parents of students at Pleckgate High School, which Rice is due to visit during the trip.

ALEX MARTINDALE, Chair, Blackburn with Darwen Stop the War 07989 675284
SHERAZ ARSHAD, Vice Chair, Lancashire Council of Mosques 07812 584020
MOULANA HANIF, Islamic scholar from Blackburn 07753 354810

What level of protest that takes place tomorrow, and what impact it will have is anyone's guess. What is becoming clear is that Jack and Condi have heard the noise, that all this is having an impact on the trip, and maybe Condi will take back some understanding of how strongly people here feel about the actions of her government. The fact that his local Muslim constituency is not as pliable as he thinks it is might even penetrate Jacks limited understanding...

COME ALONG, on Friday or Saturday and lend your voice. All the latest details on Condiwatch.

From the Press:
The Independent: Rice arrives in UK to a reception as cool as the weather
The Times: Sorry. Condimania stops here
BBC: Condoleezza arrives in Liverpool
C4: Rice abandons mosque visit

From the Blogs:
Postman Patel: Blackburn warms up for war criminals visit
How This Old Brit Sees It: Condoleeza Rice And Jack Straw Visiting This Old Brit's Hometown On Friday
Molara Wood: Condoleeza the motherhawk has landed
Beau Bo D’OrBin Laden Found in Liverpool Cave[ern] :)
MPACUK: Success: Condoleezza Rice Masjid visit cancelled!
Craig Murray: Pressure grows on the Straw-Rice visit to NW England
A Logical Voice: UPDATED: Artists snub Rice, Liverpool protests on Friday, Blackburn on Saturday

We also hear from people on the ground in Blackburn that there is a growing sense of resentment amongst people on the street as awareness of the visit grows, that support for the protest is growing, that Pleckgate school will be populated by kids from other local schools to replace those who have been kept off by their parents in protest, that some local Muslims feel that the community have stood up to a leadership rather closer to Jack Straw than they are and that there is a pretty menacing security presence in town.