Members of the Darlington Muslim and Palestinian community say they fear for their safety after an increase in racist attacks following the outbreak of violence in Gaza.

Rising Islamophobia has left the community in Darlington on heightened alert amid the Israel-Hamas war in the Middle East. A letter recently left outside a mosque in Darlington threatened to “Kill Muslims” and has led to residents safeguarding each other from hatred and discrimination. 

Yet, amid the rise in intolerance since the atrocities heightened in October, they have criticised local political leaders for not being bold enough in their support. 

Dr Hamza Qureshi has passionately appealed for support across the town since October  after hearing horrifying stories of families’ ordeals in Gaza. But he warned a sense of powerlessness has now set in among local Palestinians, who have family connections with the region. 

The Northern Echo: Darlington Jamia Mosque & Islamic Society, on North Lodge TerraceDarlington Jamia Mosque & Islamic Society, on North Lodge Terrace (Image: The Northern Echo)

He said: “There are doctors in Darlington Hospital who have lost over 50 members of their family in the conflict.”

And while hundreds of people have supported members of the worried community, Dr Qureshi said, the conflict has also fuelled the vitriol towards them. 

He added: “Every time this kind of conflict happens in the Middle East it leads to consequences back home. It leads to racism happening here on our streets and attacks on Muslims and Palestinians. It genuinely hurts people locally and people are afraid to go outside.”

Imam Saleh, of Darlington Jamia Mosque & Islamic Society, says the abuse has left Muslims contemplating leaving the UK. He said: “Muslims don’t see a future here anymore. They almost don’t even bother raising concerns because they know it won’t make a change. 

“People are fearing for their jobs because if they speak out they are then at risk. We’ve been helping each other, and as an Imam, people come to speak to me. But the silence from our political leaders is deafening.”

Durham Constabulary said a suspect has not been identified following the incident at North Lodge Terrace on December 29 but officers increased patrols in the area. 

Meanwhile, the extent of anti-Semitic hate against Jewish communities and their people in Darlington was revealed by a charity this week - with 15 incidents recorded across County Durham and Darlington in 2023

Dr Qureshi and Imam Saleh both accused the town’s MP Peter Gibson and the Labour administration running the council of not fully supporting their concerns. 

“Within days of the conflict starting in October, a group of us tried contacting Peter Gibson, Stephen Harker (Council Leader)  and Lola McEvoy (Labour candidate at the next General Election) to discuss our concerns,” Dr Qureshi said. 

“We also wanted their help to condemn the racist attacks at home, whether that was against Palestinians, Jewish people or Muslims. But Peter Gibson basically refused to meet us, he fobbed us off repeatedly. 

“Stephen and Lola did meet us, but other than words they didn’t have anything to offer. They refused point blank to say the Israelis should stop killing Palestinians. We asked them to, at least, release a statement condemning Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism but they refused to do that because they said it would be tokenistic. 

“That people in Darlington have had to reach out to their politicians for help is shocking, and even after that they have had no support. It’s such a catastrophic failure of leadership.”

Since the start of the Israel Gaza war, the government has made an additional £4.9m available for protective security at mosques and Muslim faith schools this year and next, the Home Office said. 

‘Hate crime in any form is completely unacceptable’

A Durham Constabulary spokeswoman said: “We are aware of an incident in which a newspaper containing offensive material was left outside an address on North Lodge Terrace, in Darlington on December 29.

“Officers carried out a number of enquiries into the incident, which included reviewing CCTV from the area and speaking with local residents. However, a suspect was not identified.

“An officer from our specially trained cohesion unit held a community meeting in response to the incident where residents could discuss their concerns and were given advice. Increased police patrols were also carried out in the area to provide reassurance.

“Hate crime in any form is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated. We pride ourselves on being an inclusive police force which puts victims at the heart of everything we do.

“As such, we have robust policies and protocols in place to investigate allegations of hate crime.

“We would urge anyone with new information in relation to this incident to contact Darlington Neighbourhood Police Team on 101, or call 999 in an emergency.”

‘All forms of racism have no place in our community’

Conservative MP, Peter Gibson, said: “As MP for Darlington I take pride in our diverse community, and I regularly engage with a range of community organisations and faith groups across town.

“I also regularly host an interfaith round table, which all faiths in Darlington are invited to. Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and all forms racism have no place in our community.”

The Northern Echo: Peter Gibson MP said ‘all forms of racism have no place in our community’.Peter Gibson MP said ‘all forms of racism have no place in our community’. (Image: Sarah Caldecott)

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The Darlington MP’s comments were echoed by Council Leader Stephen Harker, who added: “What we have witnessed in Israel and Gaza in recent months - loss of life, displacement, and destruction - is a humanitarian catastrophe.

“The council debated and agreed a motion. This motion states very clearly the council's view that all forms of racism - including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism - have no place in our Borough, condemning any attacks on individuals or communities, and called on the Government to support all efforts to end all violence against civilians in Palestine and Israel. 

“In practical terms support has been offered by the council and the police. This was initiated through the Darlington UNITY group, which is attended by representatives of both Islamic and Jewish communities. The council and police have provided information to the communities on what support and assistance is available through local and national resources. This offer of assistance remains open.”