On 23 July hundreds of people took part in a peace march through the streets of Beeston, Leeds and into the city centre. Beeston resident James Winterbottom gives his view on life in the area.

It’s been a turbulent time over the past fortnight. It started when four young men became suicide bombers carrying out a coordinated attack on London’s transport network killing dozens of people. These abhorrent acts left a trail that led the police and the world’s media back to Beeston.

Where you’d normally see kids playing football in the street, sneering pinstripe-suited media executives sipped designer coffee in deckchairs under makeshift gazebos on the pavements.

Getting home from work everyday would mean navigating through ever-changing police cordons. Police cars thundered up and down the streets and pavements were packed with officers walking the streets, usually a rare occurrence.

The hardest thing our community had to get our heads around was that the suicide bombers that devastated London had regularly met in Beeston to plan their attack. The sense of shock was palpable, people gathered on the streets sharing their feelings with neighbours. Waves of guilt collided with confusion, anger and sadness shaking our tight community to the core.

The anti-Muslim feeling that the terrorist attacks created elsewhere could have spread through Beeston and made us all turn on each other, upsetting the balance of the diverse community. This would have suited certain people. The terrorists wanted this to happen to make impressionable young Muslims think they live in a country that hates them. Racist organisations wanted this to happen to add fuel to their disgusting propaganda about the Muslim faith.

The opposite was true. The attacks prompted much soul searching about how young people could be pushed to extremism but no one was willing to start pointing the finger at other people.

From my experience, the community has never been more united. During the evacuations this spirit helped make a difficult time much easier. Most people accepted the massive inconvenience of being moved out of their house or like me, returning from work to find you weren’t allowed into your home. Everyone pulled together and looked after one another, regardless of race or religion.

Media coverage

There were patchy media reports of this unity but media coverage of Beeston was far from being fair and balanced. The press need an angle on every story; when they cannot find one they tend to make one up.

Most focussed on the run-down areas, painting a picture of deprivation where terrorism was an inevitable consequence of such squalid conditions. Reporters were happy to receive free bottles of water from Hamara Healthy Living Centre but didn’t say that it and many other schemes had gone a long way to help local people and improve the environment.

The negative portrayal of Beeston may just be lazy journalism but their reports made viewers think that the culture of the area helped nurture terrorism and pushed people out to the fringes of society. I find it hard to believe that Beeston was to blame for producing people willing to carry out such horrendous acts.

I think the government used criticism of Imams and the Muslim faith to deflect responsibility for the effects their war on terror has had on disillusioned youth all over the country, not just in Yorkshire.

New Labour’s foreign policy has alienated vast amounts of Britain’s youth. For me it’s the single greatest factor in changing peaceful young men into mass murderers. The Anglo-American war on terror and the Islamaphobic rhetoric that goes with it gives extremists the opportunity to recruit impressionable angry youth and guide them down the path to terrorism.

Acts of terrorism will do nothing to change the current global climate and will only encourage Blair and Bush in their unjust war in Iraq. To make a genuine difference we must act collectively and peacefully to make our voice heard.

The peace march made me feel better about the area I live in. Marching with a complete cross-section of my community showed we aren’t ashamed to live in Beeston. It shows we hate terrorism, that we’re not afraid to say the war in Iraq was wrong and that we’re a united community. It also showed the many young people present that collectively the working class can make a difference without resorting to terrorism.