Racial abuse grows 'tenfold' in Britain

The backlash
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The Independent Online

British Muslims have faced an upsurge in verbal abuse and threats of violence since the atrocities in the US, including attacks on mosques.

British Muslims have faced an upsurge in verbal abuse and threats of violence since the atrocities in the US, including attacks on mosques.

Windows were smashed at a mosque in Wellington Park, south Belfast, and at another, in Southend, Essex, graffiti was daubed on walls and windows broken. Hoax bomb threats have also been made, one of them leading to the evacuation of Regent's Park mosque in central London during Friday prayers. Mosques in Birmingham have had excrement put through their letter boxes.

Within the Muslim communities, the week's apocalyptic events are exposing philosophical fault lines. "This is not the Islamic way," said the imam (priest) during Friday prayers at the Madina mosque in Rochdale, Lancashire. "To kill an innocent person is to kill humanity. Only if somebody has committed violence against you ... is it your duty to defend." The people who had committed these terrible acts deserved to be punished, he told the worshippers.

Some took this message home. "There were innocent women and children who died, working people like you and me," said Tanvir Ahmed, a local chef. "Islam says the only time you can fight is if somebody comes against you."

But Ashfaq Khan, 30, a security firm officer, said: "I feel pain. You don't like these things to happen in any country. But this might have been coming for a time. In Grozny and Kashmir, hundreds died every day and the television did not expose it. Nobody is talking about the 75,000 who have died in Kashmir in the past 54 years."

Khadim Hussain, an executive committee member at the Victor Street mosque in Bradford's Manningham district, said: "America threw cruise missiles on the Iraqi people. Hundreds of thousands of young kids have died in Iraq through a lack of drugs and food caused by sanctions. The aerial bombardment is still not finished there. It's perhaps no surprise that this angers some."

The disaffected young feel a sense of injustice even more sharply. Amjad Hussain, 15, was bracing himself for an anti-Muslim backlash. "They tar us all," he said. "What we have lived with in Bradford and Palestine is not right."

For Nassem Amad Bajwa, a missionary at the Ahmadiya Muslim association on Bradford's Leeds Road, there was a simmering anger buried in the simple Muslim assertions of horror. "Islam means peace, but we do condemn those people who are immediately attributing this incident to Muslims, Islam and Taliban. That's a very wrong thing – to attribute to us as a nation. If a Muslim is involved, this is an individual, isolated case."

Masoud Shadjareh, chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said reports of abuse and harassment had risen "tenfold" since Tuesday's attacks. "There has been a noticeable increase," Mr Shadjareh said. In places with large Muslim populations, such as his own area of Wembley, west London, many were staying at home, he added. "People aren't going out, and that is part of the harassment."

Ahmed Versi, editor of the monthly Muslim News, said: "We have been inundated with emails and calls from Muslims everywhere who have been threatened over the past couple of days."

Muslim leaders are braced for further retaliation following widely reported remarks praising the suicide bombers by supporters of the militant cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri at Finsbury Park mosque, London. Abu Hamza called the attacks "self-defence", while one 19-year-old supporter was quoted as saying: "I pray I might be a suicide bomber."

The majority of mosques, Muslims and Islamic organisations have condemned the atrocities as un-Islamic. The Muslim Council of Britain said the terrorists "stand outside the pale of civilised values".

Gareth Peirce, the lawyer who specialises in terrorism cases, said she expected an upsurge in arrests and surveillance by the police and MI5 of Arab and Muslim dissidents as the Government cracks down on Islamic militants.

"People in the communities have already had terrible experiences," she said. "There is a high danger that all of that will increase an already disturbing situation which has been ongoing for years."

Kaushika Amin, of the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, said: "As a result of the atrocities, tensions are very, very high. This is the kind of environment where the British National Party can thrive."

In the past four days the British National Party has urged its members to hand out new recruitment leaflets condemning Islam as a religion that "creates religious hatred" and "spawns psychotic mass murderers".

Its members are also urged to withdraw their children from multi-cultural religious-education classes and to protest to headteachers about lessons teaching children that Islam is a peaceful religion.

* An Asian girl was severely beaten by two baseball bat-wielding white men in Swindon, Wiltshire, on Friday evening, in an assault that the police are handling as racially motivated. The 19-year-old was treated in hospital for head wounds.

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