By Chris Doyle
19 March 2018
Muslims in Britain, or anyone who might appear to be Muslim, will be marking April 3 in their diaries with trepidation. Various lowlifes have added a new date to the calendar: “Punish a Muslim Day.”
Letters announcing this charming exhibition of naked anti-Muslim hatred have been circulated, posted through letterboxes, including to five British Muslim MPs, one of them a Cabinet minister. The letters proclaim that “they have hurt you, they have made your loved ones suffer. They have caused you pain and heartache. What are you going to do about it?” The letter promises rewards for certain actions. Verbally abusing a Muslim gets you 10 points. Pulling a hijab off a Muslim woman earns you 25. Throwing acid in the face of a Muslim gets you 50 (acid attacks have been on the increase in the UK). Beating up a Muslim gets you a 100, though torturing one gets you 250. You have to butcher a Muslim for 500 points — the word murder is not used as no doubt the author does not consider it a crime. Burning or bombing a mosque gets you 1,000. Who knows what these points get you, perhaps an entry in the neo-Nazi hall of fame.
The police, including counter-terrorism officers, are taking the letters very seriously, as they should. They were sent to people in London, Birmingham, Cardiff and Yorkshire. Some of the letters were posted from Sheffield.
British Muslims generally put on a brave face, many proclaiming they will not be cowed into staying at home on April 3 by these extremists. Others acknowledge they will be keeping their children safely at home.
The key issue is whether this is the work of some unhinged extremist largely acting alone or, more dangerously, an organized group effort across the country with the resources to carry out such crimes and create mass panic.
It has put Islamophobia squarely back on the political agenda. For once there is a broad cross-party consensus. Prime Minister Theresa May said: “I am sure that the whole House (of Commons) will join me in condemning this unacceptable and abhorrent behaviour, which has no place in our society.”
The figures for anti-Muslim hate crimes are startling, with significant increases being reported. Data from 18 police forces indicated 2,840 Islamophobic crimes and incidents in 2016. Events can drive such crimes, with a 475 percent increase in the number of reported anti-Muslim incidents in the week following the EU referendum vote in 2016.
The situation is almost certainly worse given that all forms of hate crime remain massively underreported. Many of the attacks are also directed at women, notably because they are more vulnerable but also because they may be wearing some form of Islamic clothing such as the hijab.
It was only last June that a far-right extremist attacked the Finsbury Park Mosque in London, while a year before that another stabbed Labour MP Jo Cox to death in broad daylight.
Questions must be asked, with so much focus on religious extremism following attacks in London and Manchester last year, whether enough resources are devoted to countering far-right and neo-Nazi groups. In Cardiff, for example, a neo-Nazi gang has put up racist posters warning of “rape gangs” alongside swastikas.
At least the leaders of the far-right extremist group Britain First were convicted and jailed this month for religiously aggravated harassment. One of the leaders, Jayda Fransen, was made infamous when President Donald Trump retweeted several of her tweets last November, leading to a heated row with the UK government.
A climate must be nourished whereby any victim of a hate crime of whatever type feels safe to come forward and report it. This needs genuine faith that action will be carried out and complaints properly dealt with.
Political leaders must be ever more careful in the language they use. The London mayoral campaign of 2016 was laced with unacceptable anti-Muslim campaigning and rhetoric. The result was positive, as Sadiq Khan became London’s first Muslim mayor, but he still endures hate attacks himself. To show this, he last week read out a series of hate-filled tweets, including: “There is an easy solution for terrorism. Deport the Muslims. Starting with your pathetic self.”
Hate is on the rise and not just in Britain but across the EU. It is now a common currency against Muslims, Jews, blacks, gays and other religious and ethnic groups. Social media is infested with this. Overt declarations of hatred are just not as socially unacceptable as they were 20 years ago. Hate that lay dormant has woken up and the restraints are off. It undermines the cohesion of societies, and is polarizing and divisive. Greater police work and reporting is one element of the solution, but a greater respect must be brought about between different groups, not least through education.
This is a generational struggle against hatred. Muslim communities are under threat alongside other groups and greater coordination and cooperation between them is vital. The rise of the far right, most recently witnessed in the Italian elections, is no temporary glitch but a dangerous and threatening trend that needs a full-scale holistic approach to defeat. The struggle for the sort of societies we wish to live in is far from resolved.
Chris Doyle is director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU). He has worked with the council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honours degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University.