ALERT UPDATE: Report on Anti-Muslim Backlash Update

ALERT UPDATE: Report on Anti-Muslim Backlash Update

Islamic Human Rights Commission
9th January 2002

ALERT UPDATE: Report on Anti-Muslim Backlash Update

IHRC is about to publish a further report on the Anti-Muslim Backlash in the UK. Below are three articles printed in last Friday’s Independent newspaper regarding our previous report. IHRC would like to thank all its campaigners and those organizations who assisted in compiling the information contained within the first report.

IHRC urges other organizations and individuals to report incidents they know of or that have happened to them since September 11. This includes anything from verbal abuse physical violence. Even if you feel people’s attitudes have changed towards you please give us details.
Please contact IHRC as soon as possible on (+44) 20 8902 0888, or email:

Front page, The Independent

Dossier reveals a massive rise in attacks on British Muslims

By Ian Herbert and Ian Burrell

04 January 2002

The rate of attacks on British Muslims since the terrorist atrocities in America is more than 13 times higher than in a typical year, according to figures compiled recently by Islamic organisations.

More than 400 attacks since 11 September, ranging from nuisance calls to fire-bombings, have been logged by a team of 300 field workers from Muslim organisations across Britain.

The dossier, compiled by the Islamic Human Rights Commission, shows that Britain’s Muslims are living in an atmosphere of heightened hostility and mistrust, which has continued during the campaign in Afghanistan and after the recent arrests of suspected British Muslim terrorists.
The commission said the number of incidents reported was more than four times as many as recorded, on average, in any 12 months.

Ahmed Versi, the editor of Muslim News, said: “People have the perception that anyone who looks like a Muslim is a terrorist. It is important that they should distinguish between a few individuals and the majority who have nothing to do with these attacks.”

Much of the “Islamophobia” is expressed in the form of low-level harassment. But even physical attacks are often not being reported to the police.

Inayat Bunglawala, of the Muslim Council of Britain, said there had been an increase in discrimination, especially against those wearing beards or headscarves. Muslim children had also reported being harassed and called “terrorists” by fellow pupils. “We are made to feel like outsiders, like fifth columnists,” he said.

The rise in attacks reported by Muslim outreach workers, may not be reflected in official figures. Greater Manchester Police said it had not observed a “noticeable rise” inanti-Muslim attacks. But police in South Wales and in east London did record upsurges. The South Wales Chief Constable, Tony Burden, said the rise was “due to the events in America”.

page 3, The Review, The Independent, Leading article

British society is disfigured by growing intolerance

04 January 2002

The Anti-Muslim backlash in this country may not have been as bad as it was in the United States, where at least two people have died, but that is scant comfort to those British Muslims who have been spat at, bullied or sacked unfairly from their jobs.

The lives of many Muslims, especially women wearing the easily identifiable hijab, have been transformed by fear since 11 September. The terrorist attacks in the name of perverted Islam, and the Western response to them, have given licence to intolerance and exposed the ugly reality of prejudice in Britain.

This is the kind of persistent intimidation that is often described as “low level” and that does not usually make it into the crime statistics, yet it is something that makes life immeasurably painful and difficult for thousands of British citizens.

The catalogue of abuse and intimidation that has been compiled by the Islamic Human Rights Commission is a disturbing reminder of the daily misery that is so easily overlooked and forgotten in white, comfortable Britain. From the point of view of many British Muslims, progress in race relations has been set back at least 10 years, and the present atmosphere is worse than that during the controversy over Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses.

No wonder that Britain’s cities – especially in northern England, London having long been more cosmopolitan – are so racially segregated, as the inquiries into last summer’s disturbances found.

Nor is there room for complacency in any part of the United Kingdom. In Northern Ireland, despite several years of ceasefire, segregation between the Protestant and Roman Catholic populations is as rigid as ever, and even increasing slightly, according to the latest studies by academics in Belfast and Coleraine.

These deep divisions that disfigure our society impose an onerous obligation on our politicians. To be fair, many of them have risen to the challenge. The Muslim Council credits the Prime Minister with a calming influence in his pronouncements immediately after 11 September; and it was politicians who negotiated the Good Friday agreement and made lasting peace possible in Northern Ireland. It is up to all of us as individual citizens to do our bit to break down the divisions that remain.

page 3, The Independent

From arson to vicious assaults: the reality of daily life for Muslims

By Ian Herbert and Ian Burrell

04 January 2002

Sheraz Ghafoor is so wearily resigned to a daily battery of racist abuse that when two young white men walked into his off-licence in Hull and warned that he and his family would “burn in their beds” in the small flat above, he thought little of it. “We just assumed it was more of the same,” said the Mr Ghafoor.

It was a grave and almost deadly miscalculation of the level of hatred felt towards him. At 1.30am, six days after the warning, the doors to his premises were forced open, an accelerant was tipped across the floor and within minutes an explosion had reduced the building to a shell.
The force of the blast, in the city’s Stoneferry district, threw the metal security shutters into the road and destroyed much of his stock and possessions but by chance Mr Ghafoor, 20, his wife, Neelam, and their two children – aged 14 months and three months – were away visiting friends that night. “Every time I look at the shop I can just see four dead bodies lying on the floor,” said Mr Ghafoor, who has since taken his family into hiding in Bradford. “We are so lucky we were out for the night.”

The attack on 19 November, which is being investigated as racist by Humberside Police, is not entirely out of keeping with the misguided minority which has encumbered Hull with a dubious race relations history in recent years. Last year asylum-seekers were forced to flee the city after being attacked by thugs wearing knuckle-dusters.

But it is also an extreme example of a new way of life for Muslims who have been living with an overwhelming increase in race attacks since 11 September, according to figures released by the Islamic Human Rights Commission. For while the media spotlight may have shifted from the attacks, the violence has not stopped.

The commission has logged details of more than 400 attacks on Muslims in Britain since the terrorist hijackings in the US – four times the number it has received in an entire year since it was established four years ago.

Details of the attacks, which are given to the commission by its 300 field workers and passed on by other Muslim organisations, show they range from nuisance phone calls to hammer attacks. But an increased proportion are of a physical nature according to the commission and many are not reported to the police – which means that, as ever, race crime statistics are not painting an entirely accurate picture of the British Muslim experience.

Arzu Merali, director of research at the commission, said: “There is still not a high level of trust in the police, and their ability to stop this, to make people report it.

The level of racist abuse does not remotely compare with that felt by American Muslims since 11 September. In the US, two people have died at the hands of racists while the most serious British attack recorded by police was on a London taxi driver in September. The Afghan driver, Hamidullah Gharwal, 28, was left paralysed from the neck down after being attacked by three customers he had picked up in Twickenham.
But the degree of low-level abuse is considerable, particularly that experienced by easily identifiable Muslim women wearing the hijab. The commission’s data reveals them to be the victims of more attacks than men. Though the attacks are nearly always in public places, non-Muslims do not tend to intervene.

At 6pm on the day after the World Trade Centre attack, a 20-year-old university student boarded a crowded bus in Longsight, Glasgow, and was heading for her sister’s house when a white man sitting behind her said “you Muslim bastard” and hit her over the head with a fizzy drink bottle. The 20-year-old was dazed but no one came to her help.
“I didn’t know what to do, the driver didn’t do anything even though he saw what had happened,” she said. “The bus was full. It is a sad thing that because of anti-Muslim feeling no one came to my rescue.” Much of the abuse is more insidious. In Manchester, Zahra Afzal, 38, a political scientist, said shopping trips near her home in the Cheetham Hill area had become an unpleasant ordeal.

Soon after 11 September, a group of women stared and laughed at her as she shopped in the hijab. Some days later, she was trying to back her car out of the shopping centre when a white man accosted her and began shouting. In a third incident, she had stopped at traffic lights when she was abused by women in an adjacent car.
Mrs Afzal’s husband, Qasim, said: “This hatred is coming from people who would never have thought of hating somebody before 11 September. Those people who had been coming to terms with ethnic diversity are being pushed back.”

Mr Afzal, who is chairman of Manchester Liberal Democrats and a member of the Liberal Democrats’ national executive organisation, added that the way Islam has been depicted meant that anyone on the street who wore the hijab or a beard was seen as being opposed to the West’s “war on terrorism”. The commission believes community relations have been set back 10 years, to the kind of atmosphere which followed Iran’s declaration of a fatwa on the author Salman Rushdie, when every Muslim was considered a fanatic.

Some of the abuse it has recorded masquerades as politics, like that experienced by a Muslim woman in Morden, south London, who received a British National Party leaflet through her letter-box, “spelling out” Islam: “I: Intolerance, S: Slaughter, L: Looting, A: Arson, M: Molestation of women.”

By other accounts, it is also ingrained in officialdom. The Oldham independent review panel, which examined the cause of last year’s rioting, cited the experience of a young, hijab-clad Asian woman who got a job, then heard a conversation between colleagues along the lines of: “She’s all right really; she thinks like a Westerner”.
In the London borough of Brent, Islamophobic attacks have been so common since 11 September that local health authorities recently held a community forum to discuss ways of tackling the problem. There has always been a level of racism, said Ayesha Khan of Brent and Harrow health authority, but many of the offenders felt that the 11 September atrocity legitimised Islamophobia.

Inayat Bunglawala, of the Muslim Council of Britain, said he believed attacks had decreased since an initial September backlash because of the intervention of Tony Blair.

Police forces also report varying degrees of race crime since 11 September. Greater Manchester Police, which is keeping an “open mind” on the motive of arsonists who caused damage to mosques in Fallowfield and Bolton, declared “no noticeable rise” yesterday. Tony Burden, Chief Constable of South Wales, revealed there had been 180 racist incidents during September compared to 128 in the same month in 2000.
However The Independent has heard from individuals who have not contacted the police. Afia, a young pharmacist, was told she was no longer wanted by her employer, an independent chemist who insisted she wear Western clothes. A woman wrote from a Northern town describing how her son Azad, 14, had had his face pushed into a toilet bowl by a gang, who then wrote “Osama” on his forehead and pushed a sausage into his mouth to force him to break his Ramadan fast.

“We expected all this to peter out after the bombing of Afghanistan started,” said Arzu Merali. “But until now we’ve had the same level of reporting coming in, if not more.” Her own telephone experiences have placed her on the receiving end too: several anonymous calls have warned of various fates which may befall her.
IHRC’s International Conference on Prisoners of Faith will be held on 17th February 2002 at the Islamic Centre, 140 Maida Vale, London, W9 from 10.30 a.m. – 7.00 p.m. For more information, please contact:
Islamic Human Rights Commission
Tel: +44-20-8902-0888
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