You would think that a new school opening in an area would mean joy for the community as their children would receive education. Well, this is not the case for a close knitted community in Portsmouth. Granted, the community in Buckland has a number of churches, nursery and primary schools, but by far one that follows the principle of Islamic morals and values in conjunction with secular studies had always eluded the community. That is until The Madani Academy won the much sought after a bid to purchase Merefield House from the Council for £750,000. Winning the bid was sure to be good news for the Muslim Community of Portsmouth who had been striving to initiate and build an educational establishment, one that was based on Islamic morals, values and principles.
What made Merefield House a much coveted building for the numerous bidders was the fact that it is situated on a central location, has an existing car park and its structure is relatively new. With the bid in pocket, the school is slotted to open later this year, but, the big question is “What reception will it get?”
With the news of the school opening, came a protest from the fascists and the anti-fascists. Both groups were present on opposite sides of the road, with security barriers keeping them from going at each other physically. The best they could do was shout out their protests! A number of people from the South East Alliance, the English Defence League, English Volunteer Force, March or England and the Croydon Casuals made the march along Fratton Road.
The organizers, the English Defence League, stated that they had organized the march to show their disapproval of the Madani Academy. The academy would be the first Muslim academy in the city, and it would teach the national curriculum to children between the ages of 5 and 16, with the teachings tailored to Islamic teachings and values.
The gathering took place at 1pm outside the Connaught Arms, where the protestors proceeded to walk along Fratton Road before stopping outside the school, on the opposite side of the road. The protestors said that the opening of such a school would not promote integration, but rather it would set a precedent for other schools to follow.
On the other side of the fence were the United Against Fascism group, who made their march from Commercial Road and along Lake Road before arriving at the site of the proposed academy, where they were directed by the police to an area opposite the EDL group.
Michael Brooker, 36, who arrived wearing an army uniform for the UAF demonstration says that he wanted to highlight the fact that the British Army opens its arms to anyone, whatever their ethnic background.
The demonstration was fairly peaceful, with only one man arrested for being drunk and disorderly before the protest and another (from the EDL camp) for throwing a firework at a police officer during the protest. The fireworks that were thrown into the road distressed members of the public who were walking nearby, while some of the residents in the area had to keep indoors for fear of their safety.
Portsmouth’s council leader, Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson said he wasn’t happy that the English Defence League threw fireworks down terraced streets. He said residents had to close their doors and were too afraid to go outside.
What will be the future of the academy when they finally open their doors later in the year? Will there be other protests, or is this the end? That remains to be seen, but with people choosing sides, the fascists obviously hope it will not open, while the rest can’t wait for its doors to open and enroll their children.
While the Hampshire Constabulary states that there won’t be another march, the regional organizer of the EDL, Mickey Bayliss states that a second protest would take place, but the whereabouts and time would not be discussed with the police or Portsmouth City Council.
But a Hampshire Constabulary spokesman has said that they are in contact with the EDL and have been assured no march is set to take place.
The call for a second protest came after comments made by council leader, Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, after a march on Saturday.
But Mickey has said that members of the EDL have the right to protest and the council cannot tell them what they can or cannot do.