British Muslims feel backlash after bomb attacks

Thu Aug 4, 2005 12:00 PM BST
By Matt Falloon

http://today.reuters.co.uk/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-08-04T110019Z_01_EIC439563_RTRUKOC_0_BRITAIN-HATE.xml

LONDON (Reuters) - "You filthy Muslim dogs. You will be torched this Friday. Many Muslim pigs will burn," the hand-scrawled note reads.

At a recently vandalised mosque in the east of London, a shocked 65-year-old Siddique Ali handles one example of hate mail targeting British Muslims following the deadly bomb attacks on London's transport system on July 7.

"We are afraid," said Ali, a member of the committee which runs the mosque. "These people are giving us warnings. But if they came in front of us we could give a reply or try to understand, but they are not coming."

Attacks motivated by religious hatred have multiplied six-fold in London since the suicide attacks by four British Muslims which killed 52 commuters, and another wave of failed attacks two weeks later, according to police statistics.

Britain is home to 1.6 million Muslims, just under three percent of the population. The vast majority hail from the Indian subcontinent rather than the Middle East.

Community relations in multicultural Britain have generally been peaceful, although tensions between different ethnic groups occasionally flare into violence such as summer 2001's race riots in the northern towns of Bradford, Oldham and Burnley.

British Muslims say they suffered increased abuse after the September 11 attacks on New York later that year, but that those tensions had largely dissipated prior to the London blasts.

Two days after the July 7 bombings, however, vandals smashed about 20 windows at the front of the Mazahirul Uloom Education and Cultural Institution, a bright blue mosque in the east London district of Stepney Green.

Prayer leader Saleh Ahmed surveyed the damage alongside Ali.

"I was sleeping upstairs and late at night, about three o'clock, I heard a banging sound," Ahmed said. "I came down and found these broken windows and glass all over the floor."

Crime experts say the figure of 269 hate crimes since July 7 is an underestimate as many offences are not reported. Unofficial estimates range up to 20 times higher.

The Muslim Safety Forum lists murder, arson, assaults and bomb threats among the incidents.

In one case reported in south London, an imam was attacked as he cycled to afternoon prayers and beaten unconscious.

"He started screaming 'al Qaeda' at me whilst punching me," Muhammed Haq, 27, told the Muslim News newspaper.

DISCRIMINATION FEARED

Less violent episodes include reports of bus drivers refusing entry to Muslim women wearing the hijab, or headscarves, racist graffiti and bacon smeared on a mosque entrance in Wales.

"What happened after 9/11 and the impact on the Muslim community was terrifying," Monsur Miah, 17, said in Stepney Green. "It is happening all over again."

Concerns in the Muslim community are such that the chairman of the Council of Mosques and Imams, Dr Zaki Badawi, has suggested Muslim women could stop wearing hijabs to avoid abuse.

But the Assembly for the Protection of the Hijab, a Muslim women's group, rejected the idea and said wearing the hijab was a duty.

The Muslim Safety Forum fears July's attacks could lead to widespread discrimination against Muslims in Britain.

"People are trying to rationalise what has happened," a spokesman said. "If you are going to get the right-wing media blaming it on Muslims that will click home with a minority."

"But this is going to have wider implications -- access to services and employment. We need to be prepared."

But in the multi-ethnic London neighbourhood of Brixton, a few minutes walk from where police mistook a Brazilian man for a bombing suspect and shot him dead, Muslim women said they had yet to suffer discrimination because of the bomb attacks.

"Where there are more white people maybe there is (a problem)," 29-year-old grocer Makka Adams said. "It is so mixed here I do not feel different."

"But I do not know what will happen tomorrow."

Reuters 2005. All Rights Reserved





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