Police investigate 'backlash' attacks

Police are investigating a number of assaults on Muslims and an arson attack on a Sikh temple which are believed to have been triggered by Thursday's terrorist bombings in London.

Muslim leaders, fearing these incidents are part of a "racist backlash", met last night to discuss how best to reassure Islamic communities and deal with any further cases of Islamaphobia.

Racist material contained in e-mails sent to the Muslim Council of Great Britain (MCGB) crashed its computer system while racist propaganda has been prominently posted on a number of internet websites.

A West Yorkshire police spokeswoman confirmed they were treating as "suspicious" a fire in Armley, Leeds, believed to be at a Sikh temple. Kent Police are also investigating two assaults on Muslim men in Dartford.

A spokesman for the MCGB said they were bracing themselves for the worst and there was a real sense of "fear and apprehension" in Muslim communities, particularly in London.

But Muslim leaders were heartened by the fact that they had not witnessed the rash of racist abuse that had accompanied the September 11 attacks on America four years ago.

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the Muslim Parliament, praised Londoners for facing this testing time with great courage. He said: "Many Muslims are quite agitated by what might happen next but we haven't seen the kind of things that happened post 9/11 when people openly spat at Muslims on the streets and vandalised Mosques." He said Muslim leaders had built bridges with other communities so there was a sense that what had happened was an attack on everyone who believes in a free democracy.

"I think some of these initiatives have paid dividends, and [on Thursday] there were many Muslims who went to St Mary's Hospital to volunteer to give blood. We are all part of the same country and we feel the suffering."

Sir Iqbal Sacranie, Secretary-General of the MCGB said: "Our faith of Islam calls upon us to be upholders of justice. The day after London was bloodied by terrorists finds us determined to help secure this justice for the innocent victims of Thursday's carnage. The terrorists may have thought they could divide us and make us panic. It is our hope that we will all prove them wrong."

But a statement posted on the British National Party's website yesterday claimed: "Following the Islamic fundamentalist massacres in London, two tendencies will rapidly become apparent: First the pro-government media will swing into action, bringing out a steady stream of injured ordinary Muslims and a flood of 'moderate' Muslim spokesmen to condemn the extremists. Second, millions of ordinary Brits just won't believe them, with severe extra strain on race relations as a result."

One e-mail sent to the MCGB said: "I think that you have to acknowledge the evil which lies at the heart of each and everyone of you. The people you killed were my brothers. I am a black African. I just came here to make a better life for myself. I cannot support you. You are evil beings."

A spokesman for the MCGB said: "Senior figures around the country are meeting to discuss a possible backlash. But it is important that Muslims are not cowed by what has happened and ... go about their business."

Members of Britain's Sikh communities also fear becoming targets of racist attacks.

A spokesman for the Sikh Commission on Racism & Cohesion said: "Following 9/11, visible communities like the Sikhs and Muslims became immediate targets of public racism. Anyone that was considered to be Muslim ... was targeted with vicious verbal racism, taunts and also physical attacks"

The Commission for Racial Equality said it was monitoring "community tensions that may arise as a result of the bombings".

Islamophobia on the increase

By Oliver Duff

* The UK's 1.6 million Muslims have suffered from increasing Islamophobia since 11 September, figures show. The first big survey of anti-Muslim discrimination in December revealed long-term prejudice had been "perpetuated and normalised" since the 9/11 attacks. Almost 80 per cent of Muslims felt they had been discriminated against because of their faith, a rise from 45 per cent in 2000.

* A study by York academics this year found 43 per cent of non-Muslims admitted they have become noticeably more anti-Islamic since 2001. There was a deepening of anti-Islamic sentiment after the invasion of Iraq: a quarter of young people said they were more prejudiced than before. Hatred of Muslims was particularly prevalent among boys and young men.

* Islamic representatives believe police unfairly target their community. Since 9/11, British anti-terrorist officers have arrested more than 700 people, with more than two thirds thought to be Muslim. But only one in six has been charged with terrorist offences.

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