Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1350, (22 June - 5 July 2017)
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1350, (22 June - 5 July 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Islamophobia in the UK

This week’s attack on a mosque in London has drawn attention once again to the failure to confront Islamophobia in the UK, writes Manal Lotfi in London

Islamophobia in the UK
Islamophobia in the UK

“Had it not been for this awful attack on defenceless Muslims after their night-time prayer, no one would have been talking about Islamophobia now in Britain. And that is unfair because there are many faces of Islamophobia in the UK, but no one wants to talk about it or take it seriously,” said Saaebah, a Muslim woman who lives in the Finsbury Park area of London.

She was speaking after attacker Darren Osborne, 47, drove a van into Muslims after prayers at the Finsbury Park Mosque in the early hours of Monday morning while shouting “I’m going to kill all Muslims! I did my bit!”

Saaebah was distressed, tearful and angry, but she was not surprised. “It was coming. After the dreadful attacks in the UK, we Muslims expected the worst. Islamophobia is thick in the air in Britain,” she told Al-Ahram Weekly.

The figures support such fears, as there has been a huge spike in hate crimes against Muslims following the London Bridge attack earlier this month. The data, collated by the London Metropolitan Police, reveal that there was a 40 per cent increase in racist incidents on 6 June compared with an average day this year.

This is the highest daily level of Islamophobic incidents in the UK so far this year, and it is also higher than the levels seen following the Paris attacks in November 2015 and the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby in the streets of London in May 2013.

Saaebah explained the complexity of the phenomenon. “A man driving a van and hitting Muslims to kill as many as he can is bad enough.

But trust me, to be afraid of going out with your headscarf, or to be afraid to say you are a Muslim, or to be afraid to display your religion is the pinnacle of Islamophobia.”

“There are many Muslims in the UK who are afraid, not because of the Finsbury Park Mosque attack, but after the terrorist attacks in London and Manchester. Somehow, as Muslims we have been blamed, and our religion has been blamed. We are meant to feel guilty,” she said.

After the attack in Finsbury Park, terrified worshippers got hold of the attacker, and Mohamed Mahmoud, imam of the Muslim Welfare House, shielded him from any revenge attacks. He told reporters that he had called the police and told them that “there’s a man, he’s restrained, and he mowed down a group of people with his van. There is a mob attempting to hurt him, and if you don’t take him, then, God forbid, he might be seriously hurt.”

 “We pushed people away from him until he was safely taken by the police,” Mahmoud said.

After the attack, Metropolitan Police Chief Cressida Dick said the incident had been “quite clearly an attack on Muslims” and that the community would now see more police, including armed officers, in the area and “particularly around religious establishments”.

However, increasing armed security officers near mosques may not be enough to combat such incidents and cannot be the solution to stopping hatred, stereotyping and prejudice. This is all the more the case since the language used in the mainstream UK media after the recent terrorist attacks has used expressions like “Islamic terrorism”, “Islamic radicalism”, “Islamic extremism”, “Islamic jihadism”, and “Islamic fundamentalism”, seemingly blaming Islam for the attacks.

Meanwhile the attacker is being held on suspicion of attempted murder and alleged terrorist offences, though he seems to be far from a typical Islamophobic far-right supporter and seems much more ordinary than that.

A family man and the father of four, he is out of work and angry. He lives in Cardiff in Wales in an area known for its mix of races and religions. British Security Minister Ben Wallace said Osborne was not known to the security services and was believed to have acted alone.

His family and friends have said he is a “complex” and “troubled” individual known for “flipping his lid” when he drinks too much.

According to his mother, speaking to the media since the incident, he is “not a terrorist and has never shown any hatred towards Muslims”.

In a statement, his family said “we are massively in shock. It’s unbelievable. It still hasn’t really sunk in.” They added that their “hearts go out to those who’ve been injured” in the attack.

“My son is no terrorist — he’s just a man with problems, and I don’t know how to cope with all this,” his mother told the UK Sun newspaper. Osborne’s sister Nicola denied that her brother was interested in politics. “He wouldn’t even know who the prime minister was,” she said. “I’ve never heard him say anything about Muslims or anything racist.”

“If I ever needed anything he would come. I just can’t believe that he did that. I am a Muslim,” said Khadijeh Sherizi, who lives next door to Osborne in Cardiff. “I saw him on the news, and I thought ‘oh my God’ that is my neighbour. He has been so normal. He was in his kitchen yesterday afternoon singing with his kids,” she said.

However, it seems that Osborne began expressing antagonistic views towards Muslims in the weeks after the London Bridge atrocity earlier this month. According to commentators, his attack can be seen as the outcome of blaming Islam as a religion and Muslims in general for the terrorist attacks that have taken place in the UK in the country’s right-wing media.

Meanwhile, the Finsbury Park attack is the fourth terror attack in the UK in three months after incidents in Westminster, Manchester and on London Bridge. Prime Minister Theresa May said the attack was “every bit as sickening” as the others in a statement after the attack.

“It was an attack that once again targeted the ordinary and the innocent going about their daily lives — this time British Muslims as they left a mosque having broken their fast and prayed together at this sacred time of year,” she said.

May visited Finsbury Park Mosque, where she held talks with faith leaders.

However, while May’s gestures are no doubt good, her task in fighting homegrown extremists in the UK is bound to get harder after the attack in Finsbury Park, according to observers. This is a dangerous juncture in the battle against extremism, such observers say, with alienated young European Muslims being a kind of “weakest link” in the eyes of Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State (IS) group and other terrorist organisations.

Online followers of IS have been quick to seize on the Finsbury Park attack as proof of the “impossibility” of Muslims coexisting with the West.

UK police say they are taking a “zero-tolerance approach” to hate crime and Islamophobia, but according to many Islamophobia is under-reported in the UK and its effects are under-estimated.

Some Muslim women have said that when they go to the police to complain about harassment because of their wearing Muslim headscarves, some officers do not take them seriously. Moreover, expressing negative views about the headscarf, for example, is protected under freedom of expression legislation in the UK.

Until there is a clear definition of what exactly Islamophobia means, it will remain very difficult to confront it, let alone eradicate it, in the UK.

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