After receiving letters threatening an anti-Muslim attack, 16 individuals reported to the group supporting victims of anti-Muslim hate that I founded, Tell MAMA. These reports came in from various parts of the country, from Bradford and Leicester to East London. Muslims in Britain had been targeted by these vile the ‘Punish a Muslim’ letters, which was designed to be ‘enforced’ on 3 April 2018. The reason that this date was chosen was highlighted through further e-mails that we received, and which were subsequently passed onto the police. It bears restating, in fact, that this information was significant enough to raise with the police.
While the investigation is ongoing – even though the day has now passed – we cannot go into details as to whether previous campaigns against Muslims were connected. What we can say, however, is that such tactics may be used and even copy-catted in future; there is no doubt that extremists learn from each other’s behaviour. This is but one further reason why it is essential that the police make an arrest on this case: to show perpetrators that they will be caught; they will be prosecuted; and they may well end up in prison for it.
As this most recent, highly provocative instance makes clear, anti-Muslim hate has morphed over the 6 years that I led Tell MAMA between 2011 and 2017. Already at the start of Tell MAMA, it was clear that levels of aggression at a street level were rising against Muslims (and those, like Sikhs and Hindus, who may be mistaken for Muslims), online social media platforms were being used in a co-ordinated and strategic fashion to attack Muslims as a whole, and that the community cohesion and support for pushing back against such hate targeting Muslims in Britain was missing. By 2017, it was clear to me that social media companies were under far greater pressure to change their previously laissez-faire approach to removing hate material. Similarly welcome, more arrests were taking place on cases involving anti-Muslim hate and, at the same time, Muslim communities were being more empowered to speak out against anti-Muslim hate, particularly online.
During my time with Tell MAMA it was, sadly, also clear that Islamist extremists groups were stepping in to up the tempo, often playing on fears and insecurities within Muslim communities – like the manipulative Pied Pipers that such groups are. Their objective is not the well-being of Muslim communities in Britain, but how much traction they can gain for their ‘angry Muslim’ voices. It is therefore no surprise that some within these groups have promoted anti-Semitism and smears against progressive Muslims. Generally these aggressive voices have become part of the problem, not the solution. Yet some politicians continue to support them, thinking that these Pied Pipers could become legitimate representatives for Muslim communities. The cynical short-sightedness of these politicians and community leaders has only strengthened radical right anti-Muslim groups like Britain First, who point to these politicians and suggest that there is some form of malign ‘Muslim take-over’ of the UK – often, allegedly, by mainstream politicians who happen to be Muslim.
In all of this, Muslim communities have been seeking a fruitful path to take in which to be heard.
Importantly, while the ‘Punish a Muslim’ campaign has caused fear, police forces have been re-assuring minority communities and stepping up patrols in high-risk areas. Women, in particular, have voiced increasing levels of fear to Tell MAMA and staff, I am informed, have also been re-assuring members of the public. The fact that in 2018, a campaign like this could take place shows that there is much work to be done in challenging anti-Muslim hate. The fact is, however, that a variety of forms of hate have also increased. Anti-Semitic and disability hate have also increased visibly; for instance, to levels where Jewish communities genuinely feel uncomfortable and under threat. The social environment has therefore changed, partly because of social media ands partly because of austerity, Brexit and the recent refugee crisis that affected Syria, Iraq and ultimately, Europe. The combination of these factors has brought out, in some, the worst.
As a result, anti-Muslim hate is sadly going to be here for the foreseeable future. We must challenge it and combat it with vigour, just as we do Anti-Semitism. Yet, there is one final thing that must be mentioned. When Jewish communities spoke about the need to tackle Anti-Semitism, historically there was silence from large sections of Muslim communities – bar a few upstanding activists. Now that Muslims are in the frame, let this be a lesson. People can never remain silent when hate is directed at other groups: when you are targeted, it is these alliances that matter. Never again should any Muslim stay silent when our Jewish brothers and sisters are targeted, and this goes no less powerfully for challenging anti-Semitism within small sections of Muslim communities.
In the wake of the attempted targeting of Muslims on April 3rd, remember this. We are not alone and justice will be served. Yet the lesson also has a wider context. Stand with vulnerable minorities and groups, and stand up for others. In contemporary, multi-cultural Britain, we are interconnected in so many ways.
Mr Fiyaz Mughal OBE is a Policy and Practitioner Fellow at CARR, and Founder of Tell MAMA. See his profile at:
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