(Photo by Tom Johnson)
Last Friday, a nail bomb exploded outside a mosque in the West Midlands town of Tipton. The blast came about an hour after the funeral of army drummer Lee Rigby – the latest in a broad series of attacks on Britain's Muslim community since the soldier's murder in May outside his barracks in Woolwich, London.
Britain's Islamophobes haven't just been leaving nail bombs around ex-industrial towns in the Black Country. Since Rigby's murder in late May, aggression towards the Muslim community has included: an Islamophobic social media free-for-all, attempts to pull off hijabs in the street, phoned-in death threats and various attacks on mosques, ranging from racist graffiti to arson and petrol bombings.
But do I blame Rigby's two alleged murderers – both Muslim – for this swollen wave of anti-Muslim sentiment? No. The bigotry existed well before the murder, it's just that the climate is now far more conducive for those who spout it to leer their way out of the woodwork, confusing Sikh temples with mosques and repeatedly spelling Qur'an wrong on Twitter. It was against British law to be Muslim until 1812, but the community has never been viewed as anything but "the other" in this country.
It was 9/11, of course, that spurned anyone on the righter-wing of things into tarring all Muslims with the same brush as the plane hijackers. And, ever since then, the anti-Muslim sentiment from Islamophobic "patriots" has been on the up. In the UK, that's evident in the rise of the EDL and other far-right drinking clubs. But, at the same time, grassroots Muslim voices have been silenced, replaced by so-called community leaders jockeying for the best position from which to catch any stray breadcrumbs falling from the government's funding table.
Police after the nail bomb attack in Tipton. (Photo by Assed Baig)
The media have been complicit in this, defining which characteristics make a "good" moderate Muslim and an evil "radical" Muslim. A good Muslim is one who will criticise members of the Muslim community and tell reporters that radicalisation has nothing to do with British foreign policy or feeling disenfranchised within the UK. The bad Muslim is the character who speaks out, protests, points out the flaws in the UK's foreign policy and generally does anything that might provoke a sneering op-ed in the Telegraph or the Mail.
There's a huge difference in what the media-appointed Muslim community leaders say on TV and the genuine feeling on the streets of areas like Tipton, Birmingham and Bradford. Those on our screens are compliant and apologetic; they cosy up to the people in power in the hopes of earning their ear. Meanwhile, on the streets, there is a growing sense of frustration and anger.
On Friday, I asked some young Muslims in Tipton what they thought of the nail bomb attack. "It's the goreh," they replied. "Goreh" is a commonly used word for "white people", but – said in a specific way – can quite easily be translated to mean "the racists". I then brought up the topic of the proposed EDL rally in Birmingham (which is ten miles away from Tipton) on the 20th of July.
"They want us to stay at home while these racists attack us. Forget that! I ain't staying at home," one teenager told me. There is a history to this opinion; since the EDL started to bring their rallies to the streets of Birmingham, the police and local Muslim leaders have actively discouraged Muslim youth from demonstrating against the far-right group. The clear mistake here is that, instead of allowing them to air their frustrations, it orders them to bottle it all up – allowing one group to protest while silencing the other.
The police have called the Tipton attack a terrorist incident, which – after talking to local resident Amar Khan – makes perfect sense. "If that bomb had gone off when there were people there, there would have been some serious casualties," he told me. "There would have been 300 to 400 people at the mosque for Friday prayers." (For other theories, Tommy Robinson – ever the pragmatist – suggested it could have been a sectarian attack between Sunni and Shia Muslims, "after all they bomb each others mosques worldwide" [sic].)
A Muslim solidarity demonstration for Lee Rigby after his murder. (Photo by Jack Delf)
However, that marks perhaps the first time in memory that police have dubbed white-on-Muslim violence in the UK as a terrorist attack. For example, after a homemade explosive device was left near a mosque in Walsall at the end of last month, police said they did not believe it to be an act of terrorism. I challenged West Midlands police via Twitter about why they believed this, and the next day they conveniently removed the line from their statement. But the implications are obvious – if a Muslim does it, it's terrorism; if a non-Muslim does it, it's "just" a crime.
And these incidents are rarely even described as hate crimes, let alone terrorist acts. A paint bomb attack on a mosque in Belfast, windows smashed at a Brixton mosque, arson at an Islamic boarding school in Bromley, an arson attack that destroyed an Islamic centre in north London, swastikas sprayed on a mosque in Redditch and Muslim graves daubed with graffiti in Wales are just some of the incidents that have taken place since the Woolwich attack. They are premeditated attacks designed purely to terrorise a specific community, yet never adequately described as such – at least not in the same way as an attack carried out by a Muslim.
Again, the media are complicit. Journalists are happy to throw "Islamist" around, but seemingly fearful of the term Islamophobe. A criminal's religion is only ever mentioned if he is Muslim. Muslim women are blanketly "oppressed" if they choose to wear a hijab. Imams are extremists, mosques are a threat, minarets are a sign of the increasing Islamification of Britain and there's apparently always a "secret" Sharia court hosting a barbaric trial and cutting someone's hands off somewhere in a Poplar housing estate.
And while mosques continue to be attacked and the wider Muslim population vilified in the press for the acts of a minority, the community must endure with an increasingly contrived sense of dignity and honour – a "shut up and deal with it" approach for fear of adding fuel to an already roaring fire.
(Photo by Henry Langston)
Of course, that's sparked growing frustration within Muslim communities. I hear it when I go to the gym, while I'm sitting in the park and while I'm walking down the street; Muslim politicians are unrepresentative – they forget their roots as soon as they make it to Westminster, acting as the voice of British Islam without once considering the authentic opinions revolving around the country's streets. For instance, where was Sajjad Karim's statement echoing the outrage from his constituents when, post Lee Rigby's murder, Twitter users were posting messages like, "Drag their children out of the mosques and kill them," or taking it upon themselves to physically attack places of worship?
And how does the government propose to deal with this? I'm yet to hear David Cameron make a statement about the Tipton mosque attack – an attack that, were it an hour later, could have potentially maimed hundreds of people. Imagine if the situation was reversed, if a Muslim had attacked an Anglican church; there would be an expectance heaped on the Muslim community to apologise and condemn the actions of the individuals who carried out the attacks. The same is not expected when Muslims are attacked: there is no Cobra meeting, no sense of urgency, no care. Muslims, it seems, are expendable.
The more the government continue to do this, the more of a problem it will become. For years they have bombed and murdered innocent Muslims abroad – Muslims who look like Muslims in this country, Muslims with the same names as Muslims in this country, Muslims who wear the same clothes and speak the same language as Muslims in this country. Again, imagine the white British outrage if Cameron were to send troops to wantonly massacre half of the innocent ex-pat community in the Costa del Sol and just treated it as necessary collateral in the hunt for a couple of genuinely extremist Christians.
The Muslim community only makes up 4.8 percent of the UK population. They're an already victimised minority and the persecution is steadily getting worse; since the Tipton attack counter-terrorism police have been visiting mosques in the West Midlands, telling them to be vigilant and report anything suspicious. We have to remember that it's the Muslim community who are the victims here, not the marauding armies of racist, ill-informed thugs waving St George's flags on Britain's streets.
Follow Assed on Twitter: @AssedBaig
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