Attacks on Muslims rise after veils row

Islamophobic attacks have surged in the past month in the wake of controversial remarks by ministers about British Muslims, say campaign groups.

The rise in verbal and physical assaults includes a spate of incidents in which Muslim women have been abused for wearing veils and scarves. They come in the week that the issue was raised by Jack Straw, the Leader of the Commons.

Muslim groups blame part of the rise in incidents, which also include assaults, firebombings and racist e-mails, on comments made by politicians and negative media reporting.

At least six Muslim women have been abused for wearing scarves or veils after Mr Straw said last week that he asks Muslim women who visit his constituency surgeries in Blackburn to remove their veil.

In one incident a Muslim woman aged in her 20s had her hijab or headscarf pulled off her head and thrown to the ground by a young white man while she was at Canning Town Tube station in east London. The attack happened on the same day that a Muslim woman had the veil torn from her face by a white man who uttered racial abuse as she waited at a bus-stop in Liverpool’s Toxteth district.

Both incidents occurred last Friday – the day after Mr Straw described the veil as, “a visible statement of separation”.

There were also reports that a young Muslim girl wearing a veil in Mr Straw’s Blackburn constituency was confronted by three youths last Friday night. One allegedly threw a newspaper at her and shouted: “Jack has told you to take off your veil.”

Three days later, a 21-year-old Turkish student told Muslim News that she was standing outside a supermarket in Canterbury, Kent, wearing a hijab when she was verbally abused by a middle-aged white woman. The older woman told her she hated her being in Britain and wanted her to leave.

On the same day in Hackney, east London, a black Muslim woman wearing a veil was getting off a bus when a passenger shouted out: “Why don’t you show your lovely hair?”

The sixth incident involved a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, who reported that when she got on to the London Underground two men standing next to her deliberately started discussing their support for a ban on veils.

Even before Mr Straw’s remarks police had been receiving complaints of abuse towards Muslim women wearing veils. Police officers in Gloucestershire have investigated two allegations of verbal abuse against veiled Muslim women by white men. No arrests were made.

The British National Party has also sought to exploit the issue and has sent out anti-Islam leaflets that include a photograph of a veiled Muslim woman.

Azad Ali, the chairman of the Muslim Safety Forum, said: “Since the political party conference started we have noticed a rise in Islamophobic attacks. This time last year we did not have so many incidents. The [Muslim] community feels that there is always something negative in the news about Muslims.

“What the Government is doing is pushing away the people they need to engage with. We feel very alienated by comments from people such as John Reid. Similar things have come from the Conservative camp.”

The Muslim Safety Forum, the Muslim Council of Britain and the London Muslim Centre, based in Whitechapel, east London, have all reported abusive racial e-mails since the veil issue was raised.

Other pronouncements on ethnicity issues have been followed by instances of racial abuse. Two days after the Home Secretary, John Reid, declared at the Labour Party conference that extremist Muslim “bullies” must be faced down, the Jamia Masjid mosque in Preston came under attack from a gang of white and black youths, who threw bricks at cars while 100 Muslims, attending mosque for Ramadan, worshipped inside. The following day Falkirk’s Islamic centre was set on fire, causing £10,000 damage.

Within 24 hours of that incident, a dairy owned by a Muslim family in Windsor also came under siege. Groups of up to 30 people attacked the Medina Dairy, which has also allegedly been fire bombed. Eight people have been arrested

As Windsor’s racial unrest subsided last Thursday, the story of the Muslim police officer Alexander Omar Basha being excused from duty outside the Israeli embassy also began precipitating racial unrest, according to some Muslim community leaders.

On Saturday a British Asian, as yet unnamed, was left critically ill in hospital following a suspected racist attack outside a supermarket in the Netherhall area of Leicester. A second Asian man was also seriously injured. Leicestershire police believe an altercation took place between the two Asian men, who are friends, and a group of white youths.

A Teesside family were also targeted at the weekend after vandals daubed graffiti on their home. The Joacph family were forced to cut short a holiday when neighbours alerted them to the attack on their home in Saltersgill, Middlesbrough. Slogans, including the words “kill Muslims” and “terrorists live here” were painted on walls and doors. Police have condemned the attack on the Joacphs, who say they are practising Roman Catholics.

Independent, 14 October 2006