This is what happens when right-wing media wages a years-long campaign of dehumanisation.
Warga menggelar salat berjamaah di luar Masjid Finsbury Park. Foto: Yui Mok/PA Wire/PA Images
Perhaps the most upsetting thing about this morning's terror attack in Finsbury Park – in which a man drove a van into worshippers leaving a mosque – is that it was so clearly inevitable.
Mosques throughout the UK have been subject to an increased number of violent threats over the past few years. According to the anti-hate monitoring group Tell Mama, over 110 UK mosques have reported being attacked since 2012, some with explosive devices. However, the true figure is likely much higher, since many threats and cases of abuse will go unreported.
Meanwhile, Muslims across the country have understandably grown more concerned about their safety, as the number of Islamophobic hate incidents continues to shoot up, particularly toward visibly Muslim women. The problem has become so severe that a number of Muslim organisations, like the Muslim Association of Britain, have once again reiterated calls for a security presence in mosques for worshipping Muslims.
As any Muslim living in Britain will tell you, this attack – as well as the anti-Muslim sentiment that preceded it – didn't happen in a vacuum. Years of anti-Muslim headlines in Britain's tabloid newspapers have created an environment that has fundamentally dehumanised communities, to the point where Muslims can only be terrorists, groomers, benefits scroungers or some combination of the three. New far-right outlets like Breitbart and Rebel Media go further, insinuating that Muslims living in Britain are invaders, planning to impose Sharia law onto Britain's high streets and force your nan to wear a burqa.
Following the terror attack in London Bridge earlier this month, Tommy Robinson – the former English Defence League leader, turned YouTube pundit – called for Britain to set up internment camps for Muslims suspected to be linked to terrorism, adding that "if we don't get this issue dealt with, the British public will… they'll take matters into their own hands" in a video which has garnered tens of thousands of views on Rebel TV.
In "respectable" right-leaning circles, columnists including The Telegraph's Alison Pearson and Talk Radio's Julia Hartley-Brewer demanded, in more abstract terms, that "something must be done" in the aftermath of the London Bridge and Westminster attacks. They of course weren't calling for anything like what happened this morning, but they were never quite clear on what that "something" should be. This vague sentiment – that something must be done about the Muslims – was shared by thousands of people, and it was always a possibility that someone might take the demands to heart and act on them in the worst way imaginable.
In reality, mosques like Finsbury Park – one of the most well-known in London, and the place where I used to do my Friday prayers – are actually at the heart of their local communities, providing aid, food, services and support to residents. Finsbury Park mosque has been subject to tabloid hostility since the early-2000s, when radical preacher Abu Hamza was the imam there. However, he was dismissed in 2003, the mosque was reopened and it has since won an award for its work in preventing extremism. Just last week, the mosque helped to deliver and distribute aid to the residents of Grenfell Tower. All of this done without government support, few resources and almost constant demonisation.
The consequences of years of this kind of dehumanisation played out in the early hours of this morning, in the aftermath of the attack. It came when the MailOnline published stories linking the Finsbury Park mosque to extremism, despite the fact it has been one of the most active participants in counter-extremism for over a decade. It came when the perpetrator of the attack was described as a "clean shaved man", allowing a dignity denied to even the best black and brown men and women in Britain. Even as the government recognises this incident as a terror-related attack, tabloid news websites are hesitant to use the term "terrorism" or respond with the usual rhetoric about British society being under attack.
Ultimately, we need to recognise that the events that took place in Finsbury Park in the early hours of this morning were not extraordinary, nor are they likely to be a one-off. For anyone who's experienced anti-Muslim hatred and bigotry, the incident is the worst manifestation of something that's instantly recognisable. Tragically, it was always just a matter of time until it happened.