Hate-motivated actions against Muslims in London have soared by 600 percent since the terrorist bombings in the British capital on 7 July, according to police statistics. Acts range from suspicious eyeing on the Underground trains and verbal abuse, to criminal attacks by youth gangs on mosques and people in the streets. The police try to react as swiftly as they can but their preoccupation with attempts to deter terrorists from another attack divert their attention and resources. Despite the highest number of armed policemen in the streets of London since World War II, many British Muslims say they now live in an atmosphere of fear.
London, 8 August 2005 (RFE/RL) – London’s Metropolitan Police say that since the terrorist attacks on 7 July, the number of hate crimes against Muslims has soared by 600 percent.
The police say that the number of these crimes reached 273 last month. That is compared to just 41 such incidents for the same period last year.
Tahir Butt, a member of the Muslim Safety Forum, an umbrella organization that works closely with the police, says the report underlines the problems Muslims face in Britain’s post-7 July climate.
“We’re not trying to alarm people but we’re trying to give them a realistic picture of what’s actually happening on the ground," butt said. "And the message is that there has been a significant increase. But coupled with that the message is increased vigilance and crime prevention measures as well. And also to try to get people to report the incidents.”
Butt explained that several personal attacks have been reported. An imam was attacked, a girl student was beaten up, and a minicab driver tried to beat his passenger.
A number of Muslim leaders, who have expressed their concern about these incidents, have welcomed the police report as now focusing attention on the problem. Dr. Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, the leader of the Muslim Parliament and a director at the Muslim Institute, says that most of the reported attacks range from mere gestures of disapproval to verbal abuse, and he ascribes this to fear, revulsion, and other “heightened emotions” after the terrorist attacks in London.
“When you’re travelling in the Underground, people want to sit away from you. When people are walking, people would shout at you either ‘Go home’, or ‘Paki’, or ‘Bin Laden’. This is obviously a way of expressing their reaction to Muslim-looking people,” Siddiqui said.
Tahir Butt said that the police report covers only London, but that there have also been serious incidents elsewhere in the country. “They range from a mosque being attacked in Birkenhead in Liverpool, which was firebombed," he said. "There was a murder in Nottingham, and loads of mosques had their windows broken, graffiti outside.”
Butt said it is difficult to get a full picture for the whole of Britain because people are reluctant to report incidents and
some police forces still do not record hate crimes. He said that at times police have also been reluctant to take reports.
“At a senior level, the response has been quite good," Butt said. "It’s been zero tolerance. But for us the issue is about that ground level where people go into their police stations and try to report these incidents, and they haven’t received the correct response.”
Dr. Siddiqui stressed that he himself has seen the London police acting very swiftly when he phoned them about an incident. And he is sure that more hate attacks take place mainly outside London, anyway. “London is far more cosmopolitan," he said. "You don’t see things of this nature taking place in London, but as you go out, you feel more and more things happening.”
Tahir Butt said he has been personally influenced by the hostile attitudes being displayed by some people in the aftermath of the bombings. And he adds that he does not blame some Muslims seeking greater personal safety within the so-called ghettos.
“For me, this is a deeper issue," he told RFE/RL. "It’s about living in the society, being born in it, growing up with it, having worked for the society for 16 years. And then, after all this, it’s about your identity. Are you really British, or are you the fifth column in this society, destabilizing the rest of it?”
Yet, Butt concludes more positively that there also have been numerous examples of good and friendly behaviour towards Muslims by the white British majority. He recalls an example of Islamophobic graffiti on the mosque, where a police officer actually spent his own money to go down to a shop and buy some paint and paint it over.
So, “generally speaking,” he concluded, “there have been some good people around as well, and that’s a good sign for the future.”