December 3, 2015 — Comment
Written by Jon Burnett
An overview of anti-Muslim violence and abuse in the UK since the Paris attacks.
The terrorist attacks in Paris last month, killing 130 people and injuring 368 more, have been followed by anti-Muslim violence across Europe. In the UK, sixty-four religious or racially motivated hate crimes were reported to the police in Scotland in the week that followed, almost as many as were reported in the whole previous year. In London, the seventy-six ‘Islamophobic incidents’ that were reported to the police in that same week were triple the number reported in the previous one. The UK-wide anti-Muslim hate crime reporting body Tell Mama says that there had been a 300 per cent increase in the number of incidents it had recorded, with 115 reports – the victims being mostly women and girls. This combination of violence and threats is not new, of course, but according to one writer for the Guardian, its impacts are changing. ‘Since the Paris attacks’, she said, ‘I have been more frightened than ever’.
‘The new normal’, the Islamic Human Rights Commission recently argued, is the environment within which Muslims are now ‘assumed guilty of terrorism by association’. And in this context, the spate of attacks and abuse that are certainly now increasing after the events in Paris should not be divorced, also, from the state’s hyper-surveillance of Muslims, the new duties to report on potential extremists, the heightened demand for declarations of loyalty to ‘British’ values and a backdrop of criminalisation. These attacks include the assault of 53-year-old Mohammed Khalid by a group of people as he closed his Fife takeaway a day after the terrorist murders. The perpetrators, shouting racist abuse and ‘ISIS’, left him needing hospital treatment for a serious eye injury, and assaulted his wife who went to his aid. They include the firebombing of a cultural centre a few days later in Glasgow, the vandalism of two mosques in Newport and the attempted arson attack on Finsbury Park mosque. A house in County Antrim has been targeted by petrol bombers, most possibly because a Muslim lived there. And near the end of November, a 17-year-old in Cheltenham was assaulted by two men shouting ‘terrorist’, who beat him with golf clubs. When the boy’s uncle and father found the attackers, they themselves were racially abused, before the attackers fled. Speaking to a local newspaper after the events, the family said they did not want to give their surnames for fear of reprisals.
No doubt this physical violence is an expression of how some people are determined to rid their area of Muslims. A car wash in South Tyneside, destroyed in a suspected arson attack, was daubed with graffiti including the words ‘Muslim’ and ‘rats be gone pronto’. And such violence takes place at a time when narratives conflating ‘asylum’, ‘Muslim’ and ‘terror’ are rife. ‘Is Isis actually the beating heart of Islam?’, asked Sun columnist Kelvin Mackenzie recently, before calling on David Cameron to ‘pull up the drawbridge’ to migrants until ‘we are certain we are not importing our own destruction’. Soon after came the same paper’s now infamous front page headline claiming that a fifth of Muslims in Britain had sympathy for Isis fighters, which it had based on a misleading, facile opinion poll. The Daily Mail, meanwhile, has produced a cartoon which has been likened to Nazi propaganda, for its depiction of Muslims and rats walking towards a sign saying ‘Welcome to Europe’.
As the bombing campaign of Syria gets underway, this ‘welcome’ will no doubt be extended to more refugees.
A selection of anti-Muslim attacks and incidents in the UK in the weeks following the Paris murders:
- 14 November: A takeaway owner in Fife, his wife and their assistant are attacked by a group of people shouting ‘Isis go home’ as they close up for the night. The owner, who is hospitalised as a result of the attack, later says he may close the business. (Daily Record, 22 November 2015)
- 16 November: A mosque in Gillingham is vandalised, with eggs and paint thrown at one of the entrances. (Kent Online, 30 November 2015)
- 17 November: A Muslim cultural centre in Glasgow is set on fire in an attack on the same morning that 100 Syrian refugees are scheduled to arrive in the city as part of a resettlement programme. (International Business Times, 17 November 2015)
- 17 November: A family in County Antrim escape injuries after their home is damaged in a petrol bomb attack. The mother of the family says that they were attacked because her husband is Muslim. (Belfast Telegraph, 18 November 2015)
- 23 November: A 23-year-old woman, travelling with her sister on the Metro between Newcastle and Whitley Bay, is approached by a male passenger who tells her to get off the seat. When he is challenged by other passengers he turns on them, saying ‘what, do you want her to bomb this train?’ (North East Chronicle, 23 November 2015)
- 23 November: A pregnant Muslim woman travelling on a London bus is racially abused for around fifteen minutes, as other passengers look on, by a man who calls her a terrorist and says ‘B*****d, get back to your country’. One passenger intervenes when the man threatens to attack her. (DOAM, 28 November 2015)
- 23 November: A Muslim woman wearing a hijab is punched in the face in Birmingham city centre, in an incident treated as a hate crime. (Birmingham Mail, 30 November 2015)
- 23 November: A 17-year-old boy in Cheltenham is attacked by two men with golf clubs who shout ‘terrorist’ as they beat him. The two men later attack members of the teenager’s family, before fleeing. (Gloucestershire Echo, 23 November 2015)
- 24 November: A car-wash in South Tyneside is destroyed in a suspected arson attack and it is daubed in racist slogans including ‘Muslims’ and ‘rats be gone pronto’. (Shields Gazette, 24 November 2015)
- 24 November: Two mosques in Newport are daubed with graffiti, with one having ‘Islam is demonic’ painted onto a wall. (Wales Online, 25 November 2015)
- 24 November: A woman on a bus in Birmingham is racially abused and threatened by a man who intimates that he will set her on fire. (BBC News, 1 December 2015)
- 24 November: The Leeds Muslim Community Safety Forum is told of a number of incidents following the Paris attacks including a woman in Harehills being ordered to take off her headscarf and ‘get back to her own country’, and a man attempting to buy as many pigs heads as he could from a butcher so he could ‘desecrate as many mosques as possible’. (Yorkshire Evening Post, 25 November 2015)
- 27 November: A man is caught on CCTV trying to fill a jerry can with petrol and throwing it at Finsbury Park mosque, before fleeing on a moped. (Guardian, 29 November 2015)
IRR News: ‘Where anti-Muslim sentiment leads‘
IRR News: ‘When solidarity fails‘
IRR report: ‘Racial violence: facing reality‘
The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.