How London's Finsbury Park Is Reacting to the Attack

On the streets yesterday people said they wanted to show solidarity, but also that they had noticed a rise in hate speech in recent months.

by Joe Zadeh; photos by Jake Lewis
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Jun 20 2017, 4:24pm

The statistics have been there since Thomas Mair murdered Labour Member of Parliament Jo Cox in the week ahead of the EU referendum. One in three terror suspects arrested last year were white, the highest level in 13 years. It was the only ethnic group to report a rise, and the government's anti-radicalization program, channel, is receiving more far-right referrals than ever before.

In the early hours of Monday morning, a white man launched an attack on Muslims on their way home from a mosque in Finsbury Park as they aided a sick man on the street.

It was a stark reminder, if ever we needed it, that "white jihad" (as British neo-Nazi group National Action call it)—and the growing link between online hate speech and offline violence—will soon become a defining horror of the decade.

Suela

"I've never felt unsafe here," says Suela, a 31-year-old Brazilian resident who I find standing on her front porch, peering up the road to the crowds outside Finsbury Park Mosque, just 20 yards away from her door. Two weeks ago she was at London Bridge on the night of the terrorist attacks, missing them only by a few hours after leaving to meet friends in Greenwich. "Now I have this happening outside my house, it just makes me think...My god."

What made Monday's terror attack different is that it wasn't intentionally centered upon a national landmark or focused in the city center, but instead targeted the heart of a specific community. It was terrorism on a local level, spilling blood onto streets where residents live and walk every single day, where they buy their groceries and newspapers.

"That mosque is a community symbol," says Suela. "I used to live in east London and didn't feel safe at night. But here, when I go out I don't even take an Uber home anymore. All these young and old Muslim people are out on the streets, and they make it feel safe for a young girl to walk home alone. We have to pray for them now."

Today, the roads near the incident are a jungle of police blockades and press areas. "We're gonna be on TV later!" shouts a man in an Arsenal shirt, looking amused as he ducks and dives through the endless cameras, umbrellas, boom mics, wires, and tripods that now populate a press area on Seven Sisters Road. "Yep," he booms over the sound of helicopters hovering above, "it's a terrorist attack alright!"

For the residents of Finsbury Park, life has resumed with defiant speed. A school trip of 30 young kids wander past me into the park, a local grocery store is full of shoppers, and people sit outside cafes and in the beer garden of a pub. A few observe the chaos, but most just chat amongst themselves. "Yeah, I don't feel safe, but do we have a choice?" asks George, a 73-year-old Cypriot Jehovah's Witness who I meet sitting outside a sandwich shop he's been running for 18 years. Inside, the news blares footage from 200 yards away, as he fries up a batch of Cod fish for the lunch time rush.

George speaks, like many I'd talk to throughout the day, with a sense of horrified acceptance. "You have to carry on with your life. There will be another one and another one and another one. A terrorist might come and kill 100 people, the next day we're still going to work," he says. "What else are you gonna do? Where are you gonna go? If someone wants to drive their car through the park over there and kill everyone, there is nothing we can do to stop them. This is going to be our type of life now."

I take the long way around the cordon and make my way to the Islington Islamic Center, where an old man sits at the door, watching the latest news filter in. I'm guided in by a man in a polo shirt who seems to be acting as makeshift security. Inside, the mosque is the only cool and peaceful place I've found all day. There's nobody here apart from Abdi [usher] on reception, but that could just be because it was in between Salaah ("prayers"). Abdi is calm but mournful about last night's events, but he'd rather I talk to the mosque's elected spokesperson. He, however, is in the hospital with a victim from last night. He arranges for him to call me at 5 PM, but that call understandably never comes.

"It wasn't one person; it was definitely three people. Two in the back of the van," suggests Mustafa, contrary to the Police's official statement: that the only suspect is 47-year-old Darren Osborne. I meet Mustafa at the counter of halal butchers, which opened as usual at eight in the morning. I ask if it's felt like there's been any tension in the area recently—anything to signal that something like this might happen. He and his colleague shake their heads. "I've been here nine years," explains Mustafa's co-worker, Shamshir, "and never anything like that here. But this stuff happens these days. It's not only London, it's everywhere."

The more I talk to people, the more it becomes obvious that it's unlikely the attacker would be a local resident, and it comes as no surprise when news breaks that the man arrested for the attack is from Wales. Outside Finsbury Park Mosque I meet Ibrahim. His friend's son was one of the victims last night, and he says he's now doing OK in the hospital. He also tells me newspapers like The Sun gave this mosque a bad name because of its historical association with Abu Hamza—former leader of the Mosque who preached fundamentalism and militant Islamism— but absolutely everything about the mosque has changed since then.

"The hate crime is rising," he says. "As a man, I don't get it so much, but for my wife and daughter, things feel very different to how they did two years ago." He stops and points. "Here she comes," he laughs. Suddenly, Theresa May sweeps past, surrounded by police, towards the silver car next to us. A group of protesters immediately begin screaming "Blood on your hands!" These same protesters were at Grenfell Tower on Saturday, they tell me.

While we used to steer away from politicizing tragedies too quickly, now the response is rapid. This seems to be less about people feeling less mournful about these incidents, and more about the wider public seeing the factors and causes of incidents like this with greater clarity. People are connecting the dots, and every time they do the brew of national anger becomes even thicker. I look at Theresa May and she looks at the group, and then immediately looks to the ground, as she is bundled into her car. Even Cressida Dick,—British senior police officer, currently the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in London—walks past moments later, incurring the wrath of the protesters. "She isn't fit for the job," one protester tells me, "We remember Jean Charles De Menezes," referring to when Dick was commander during the operation that led to his death.

"There's a connection between Grenfell Tower and this incident," explains Weyman Bennett, who seems to be in charge of the protest. He's a member of the Socialist Workers Party and lives nearby. "It's this narrative of blaming communities whether they're poor, Muslim, working class, and blaming them for the problems of society. This government used the attacks in London and Manchester; and instead of trying to heal divisions in our society, they encouraged them because they thought it would get them favour from the electorate. Well, here we are: Now the worst of society have been enabled by those in power."

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