Since the terrorist attacks in France, assaults on Muslims have been on the rise in Britain.
In the wake of Paris attacks on November 13, fear is more widespread in Britain than ever before. The number of attacks on Muslims is currently at an all-time high. According to police figures, assaults against Muslims in London have tripled. A few days before the attacks in France, 24 hate crimes were reported to British police; on the week ending November 24, the recorded numbers jumped to 76.
These attacks—often violent—generally target women and are often perpetrated by men. Such attacks recorded by Tell MAMA, an organization that tracks Islamophobic crimes in the United Kingdom, included a woman wearing a niqab (face veil) who was punched twice in the back by a white male in his 50s or 60s as he got off a bus. On November 23, a teenage girl in a hijab (headscarf) was punched in the face while on her way to a train station by a man who then “casually walked away.”
In a report published a few days after the Paris attacks, Assistant Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Wales Sahar Al Faifi told the BBC she “lost count” of the incidents of physical abuse she has received. She added that “Welsh Muslims are living in immense fear of backlashes.”
Islamophobia is spreading in schools, too. Tell MAMA says it has received reports of 22 attacks (both verbal and physical) on school children from January to November. One such incident made headlines. The parents of Aman Ghani filed a complaint in a case that is currently under police investigation after their son came home “tearful and distraught.” The 14-year-old was sent out of a school classroom as his teacher said, “Stop talking, you terrorist.”
Although the Paris attacks have led to a sudden spike, police records show Islamophobia has been on the rise for some time, increasing by almost 42% between October 2014 and 2015. These attacks and many others have left the Muslim community in Britain very fearful.
Racism makes a comeback
On December 16, a conference titled, “Unite Against Islamophobia and Racism – Defend Muslim Community” was hosted in Tower Hamlets, a London district that is home to the largest Muslim population in the United Kingdom. Local councilors and leading campaigners addressed a concerned audience of mainly local Muslims.
Those speaking at the event included the director of East London Mosque, Dilowar Khan, who expressed concern about the rise in attacks on Muslim women. He told the audience how disappointed he was that life had reverted to the 1970s and 1980s for the Muslim community, when Tower Hamlets’ Asian population lived in constant fear of far-right and other National Front members, who often targeted them with racial abuse. Back then, he said, “We were Pakis. Now, we’re terrorists.”
John Rees of Stop the War Coalition also mentioned how hatred toward “Niggers and Pakis” in the 1970s and 1980s is now being directed at British Muslims. But unlike the racism of yesteryears, today’s hate—Islamophobia—is encouraged in the wider British society. The police, the media and the government all play their role in demonizing the Muslim community, thus justifying the bombing campaigns of Muslim-majority countries across the globe, he told the audience. Islamophobia, Rees said, “is essential to foreign policy” in Britain.
While highlighting the fear gripping the nation, rights campaigners shared their concerns that academics are now being silenced on the Syria subject for fear of being labeled “terrorist sympathizers,” after British Prime Minister David Cameron described those who oppose the bombing campaign as such.
On December 4, at a vigil held outside Finsbury Park Mosque in London—the scene of an attempted arson attack—Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn wanted those responsible for the incident to know that they “will not divide” the local community. “This attack is designed to divide our community between one faith and another, one ethnic group and another, or one people and another,” he said. “It has failed, it will fail, it will always fail because we are very proud of our multicultural community.”
Fear mongers are winning
Sadly, those spreading the fear and distrust are winning the hearts and minds of many Brits who appear to be genuinely concerned for their safety when around Muslims. Recently, a Muslim man was thrown off a National Express coach from Bristol to London after a female passenger complained she would feel “uncomfortable” traveling with him. The Muslim passenger, Ibrahim Ismail, said: “I believe I was asked to leave because of the way I was dressed, and the fact I’ve got beard. They asked me to leave because I was Muslim. Is that not discrimination?”
Earlier in April, news reports of ten children who were pulled out of a school trip to a mosque after parents expressed “grave concerns” made headlines. One parent told reporters: “We have grave concerns about the children’s safety during the trip due to the horrific events that occur every day.”
A survey examining attitudes of 6,000 school children aged between 10 and 16 highlighted fears of Muslims and immigrants. Of those surveyed, 47% believed Muslims and non-Muslims had poor relations in England. And 35% agreed with the statement, “Muslims are taking over England.”
With Britain taking part in the bombing campaign over Syria and Iraq, fear and hate crimes against Muslims are likely to rise. Today’s global environment differs from 2001 and 2003 when the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. Those wars were sold in different packages—al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, and Weapons of Mass Destruction and Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
Over a decade later, with the flames of those wars still burning in many Muslim countries, the media and the politicians who justify these conflicts are quite happy to say the world now has a “Muslim problem.” In fact, the United States has presidential candidates spewing hatred against Muslims to win votes, going as far to say that Muslims should be banned from entering America, while European far-right leaders gain power in countries they had little support in a decade ago.
Although Donald Trump’s comments about banning Muslims from entering the US have caused mass outrage at home and abroad, the ban appears to already be in place for some. According to a recent report, at least 20 British Muslim families have been barred from entry since the Republican presidential candidate’s calls.
As people fleeing the unlivable conditions in their homelands enter Europe—with Britain now making promises to change its closed-door policy by taking in 20,000 refugees by the next election—those who are selling Islamophobia are not having a difficult time finding buyers.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.