'Bombers, racists, the law: they're all out to get Muslims'

Fear of faith-hate reprisals runs high
Anushka Asthana, Dana Gornitzki, Lorna Martin, Tariq Panja, David Smith and Ned Temko
Sunday July 24, 2005
The Observer

http://www.guardian.co.uk/attackonlondon/story/0,16132,1535190,00.html

Jimmy, a Muslim, pulled over his car a few hundred yards from the former home of suicide bomber Shehzad Tanweer on Colwyn Road in Beeston, Leeds. He took out a DVD which explored a conspiracy theory about 9/11. 'It is the same with this,' he said. 'The moment a mother rang up about her son from West Yorkshire, they knew they had their fall-men.' Among Beeston's younger Muslims, it was an increasingly common view last week. On the street corners, inside the shops and in the local park, there were mutterings of conspiracy theories as rumours washed over the town. One was that Hasib Hussain - the 18-year-old bus bomber - had been seen alive, another that one bomber's family said he could not have been carrying identification as it was all at home.

Ever since it had become clear that three of the men responsible for the 7 July atrocities were from the same tiny area, Beeston became a hub of activity as police and media descended. Over the past two weeks the mood has shifted from shock to disbelief.

Last week things appeared to have calmed down, with the police lines gone and the cameras out of sight. In the park people walked dogs or played tennis. Near the courts, a group of men - whom Hussain and Tanweer had once hung out with every day - gathered as usual.

After news of the further bombing attempts in London reached them last Thursday, they relaxed more and one said: 'That should take the attention off Beeston.' Any possibility that the new suspects could also be locals was not discussed.

By Friday, as news of more extraordinary developments in the capital filtered through, the mood shifted again. 'London will be like Beirut, Belfast and Palestine now,' said one man. 'It will be a part of life because Bush and Blair can't keep their noses out of other people's business.'

'Bush is the real terrorist,' muttered another.

A 30-year-old man who went to school with Mohammad Sidique Khan - the oldest of the London bombers - said many young Asians in the area suffered from a 'persecution complex'. He said: 'A lot of people had no idea who Osama bin Laden was before 9/11. Then they got this information and believed that Muslims were being persecuted.'

He added: 'Many don't want to get addicted to drink, so they look for another outlet - for them religion is always there.'

Blaming Bush and Blair to justify terrorism is not the majority view among Muslims across the country - but it is the passionate belief of a significant minority. Almost one in four British Muslims sympathise with the motives of suicide bombers, according to a YouGov poll published in yesterday's Daily Telegraph. More than half say that, whether they sympathise or not, they understand why some people behave in the way they do.

The research also showed that nearly one in three thinks that Western society is decadent and immoral and should be brought to an end. Sixteen per cent of British Muslims told the survey that they do not feel loyal towards Britain and 6 per cent went as far as saying the London bombings were justified.

Findings like this produce complex reactions in young British Muslims like Fatema Dossa, 24, a pharmacy graduate from Eastcote, London. 'There is no doubt that the double standards of Western foreign policy have an effect on Muslim youth. You can understand the motives of suicide bombers, but to kill people is different. It is not going to achieve anything.

'If you go to university and see the youth - not just white British but Pakistani and Muslim youth - drinking and drug-taking, you do feel, where is society going? I'm sure the older white British generation would agree society is decadent. But I wouldn't go as far as to say "immoral".'

Fears of an anti-Muslim backlash have been realised in a 500-per-cent rise in faith-hate crimes in the past two weeks. More than 1,000 race and faith hate incidents have been reported to police across the country since the London bombings, though community leaders believe the actual number of incidents is at least four times higher.

Most of the reported crimes are 'low-level' attacks such as graffiti and verbal abuse. However, race monitoring groups across the UK have seen a significant increase in the number of reports of arson attacks on mosques and Muslim women being spat at in the street or not being allowed on buses because they were wearing headscarves.

Police are investigating several serious assaults and one murder related to the backlash. Although most incidents have taken place in and around London, police or community groups across the country have reported a rise in Islamophobic-motivated attacks.

On Friday, police arrested three people after an alleged arson attack at the Buckinghamshire home of suicide bomber Germaine Lindsay. They have also received more than 200 reports of faith-hate incidents, up from 30 for the same period last year.

A race body in Wales yesterday said the rate of abuse had increased from 10 incidents in a month to more than 30 in the two weeks following the 7 July attacks. In Glasgow, a woman sharing the same surname as one of the bombers said her children had been spat on.

According to the Muslim Safety Forum (MSF), there was a sharp rise in Islamophobic crimes the day after the first London bombings. The rate decreased a few days later then increased again after the suspects were revealed to be British-born Muslims.

Since CCTV images were released of the suspects of Thursday's failed attacks, there has been a further rise in apparent reprisal attacks.

Tahir Butt of the MSF said there were serious concerns about the backlash and, while he praised police for their efforts to protect Muslims, he raised questions about how prepared they were for the level of reprisal attacks.

'There are bigots out there who are reading some media reports and deciding to take the law into their own hands,' he said. 'The message from everyone is zero tolerance, but we need action. We need to hear about people being arrested for these attacks on Muslims who are threefold victims. They are targets of terrorists, targets of the Islamophobic backlash and they will be targets of anti-terror legislation.'

Amar Singh, editor of the Eastern Eye newspaper, said Muslim communities were on tenterhooks. 'There is genuine fear. At worst it is assault and abuse, at best it is strange looks or people moving away from you on the train. After 11 September we looked at Americans and thought they were so ignorant ... They didn't know the difference between a Muslim and a Sikh. I can't believe parts of Britain are just as bad. Just as xenophobic.'

Police had hoped an intense backlash could be avoided by responding quickly to hate crimes. A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers said apart from four arsons, or attempted arsons, and one murder, most incidents involved abuse in the street, minor criminal damage, graffiti, offensive literature, phone and internet threats and abuse, hoaxes and some assaults.

The Met has passed the effort to counter hate crime to its most senior Muslim officer, assistant commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, who told The Observer he would be convening a special meeting of local community figures at Scotland Yard tomorrow.

While positive discrimination is illegal, Ghaffur told an inter-faith meeting in Southall on Friday that he was determined to look for 'imaginative' ways to recruit more Asians and Muslims to the police. One of his ideas was the possibility of London business leaders funding a recruitment drive for Muslim officers.

The tension was evident in east London yesterday on Brick Lane, where the stalls and restaurants are usually bustling on a Saturday. Oly Ahmed, 22, a staff member at Chillies restaurant, said: 'It's not normal, very quiet. Friday night was quite busy but the rest of the week was not even 10 per cent of normal business. It's incredible for Brick Lane. Our business depends on tourists and City workers. They are not coming this way because of problems with travelling. Lots of people are talking about it and everyone is scared of what will happen.'

Aklis Ali, 39, who works at the Best 1 convenience store, said: 'There have been a lot of police on the streets since 7 July. There is tension when my family goes out. When my wife wears a hijab people think she's a terrorist. We don't feel safe - you never know if someone is going to attack you for being Muslim. My wife went to the hospital last week and someone swore at her.'

He added: 'Just because of a few fanatics, you can't blame all Muslims. We all have the same feeling about 7 July. We're human beings.'





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