A Muslim woman has had her veil snatched from her head and was racially abused as she stood at a Liverpool bus stop. The “despicable attack” came the day after former foreign secretary Jack Straw caused controversy by revealing he asked Muslim women to remove their veils. Merseyside Police are treating the incident, which occurred at 10am yesterday morning, as a hate crime.
The family of the a woman and community leaders in the city last night criticised Mr Straw, saying his remarks were to blame. Ilham Ali, the daughter of the victim of the attack, who has not been named, said: “He was saying ‘take that scarf off your head, you Muslim’ and using abusive language. I am 100% certain that what happened to my mum is a direct result of the comments Jack Straw made.”
The chairman of the Liverpool Mosque and Islamic Institute, Mohammed Akbar Ali, last night said the attacker had “taken advantage of Jack Straw’s statement to take the law into his own hands”.
The 49-year-old victim was standing at a bus stop at the junction of Kensington and Holt Road when a man shouted racial abuse at her and ripped her veil from her face. The woman, who lives in Toxteth, was said to be left “extremely distressed” by the unprovoked attack.
The offender is described as a tall white man in his 60s, with a slim build and silver-grey hair. He was wearing a light khaki jacket and grey trousers.
Inspector Saied Mostaghel said: “This was a despicable attack, which has left the victim feeling extremely shocked and upset. This kind of behaviour will not be tolerated in our communities, and I would reassure local people that we are treating the matter very seriously.
“We will be meeting with community leaders today to discuss any concerns they may have and I would ask anyone who may know who is responsible for this to come forward.
“Everyone has the right to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect and we are especially concerned with the protection of people who are vulnerable to attacks because of their racial origin, disabilities, religion, sexuality or gender identity.”
Mr Akbar Ali said: “This is completely and utterly unacceptable, and Jack Straw should make a clear statement of what he meant. We should be given a public explanation for this irresponsible statement by such a responsible figure. It has damaged our community. We have been nurturing such good community relations for such a long time in Liverpool, and I am very proud of that fact.
“Even during the days of the Bigley affair [Kenneth Bigley was killed by insurgents in Iraq two years ago on Sunday], the crisis in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq, we did not have such incidents and Muslims were quite safe. I put the blame squarely on Jack Straw. He should have known better than to come out with this remark.
“We are not a monolithic culture and we have differences of opinion among ourselves. I personally don’t agree that women should cover their faces. It is not necessary, according to my interpretation of the Qu’ran.”
He expressed his upset that the incident had happened in Kensington, as the Muslim community aim to open a cultural centre on the site of England’s first mosque on Brougham Terrace, in time for the 2008 Capital of Culture celebrations.
The family of the woman involved in the attack have been in touch with Kensington Liberal Democrat councillor Richard Marbrow, who says he will be contacting Jack Straw. He said:
“From what I have heard, this was directly related to what Jack Straw said, and I will be writing to him to say that people should think carefully before they speak. A politician with no credibility in this area has said something that is clearly causing problems here, and I wish he hadn’t. Hopefully this is a one-off incident, and I hope the police work very hard to prevent anything like this happening again.”
Police say anyone with any information on the attack should contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.