There are a host of studies on how the radical right mobilises, spreads its message, and is policed. Unfortunately, there is far too little analysis of the impact that hate crime has on its victims and on how people respond to being the targets of hate crime. In the first book of Ibidem’s new Analyzing Political Violence series, Nasser Kurdy walks David Tucker through his experience of being stabbed in the back of the neck outside his mosque in Manchester in September 2017. Kurdy is an orthopedic surgeon, an active leader in Manchester’s Islamic community, and the founder of I4giveH8, an organisation focused on countering extremism and hate in the United Kingdom. The book is the result of a series of interviews that Kurdy gave to Tucker during 2019, which have been written up by Tucker as a first-person narrative, speaking to the reader in the voice of a hate crime survivor. Kurdy gained nationally celebrity for forgiving his attacker the day after his attack, and he reflects extensively on the power that forgiveness has in bringing peace to victims and in allowing them to move on with their lives without being paralysed by anger.
After briefly telling us how a boy from Syria ended up training and working as a surgeon in Britain, Kurdy describes the attack in careful detail. He writes that he was admiring a garden before entering his mosque one morning when someone stabbed him from behind and then chased him inside the mosque, shouting “This is for what you’ve done!” The knife narrowly missed vital parts of the neck, and it is miraculous that Kurdy survived the attack at all, let alone that he was back at work within two days. A firm believer in the Quran’s teaching that “Nothing befalls us except what the Almighty has decreed for us” (9/51), Kurdy and his wife feel that he was touched “by the mercy of God” in surviving to tell the tale. Kurdy explains carefully how his subsequent interactions with the police, the media, his community, and the legal system impacted him as a victim and a survivor. While praising the police for their handling of the situation, he also noted a number of times that he thought they had missed things. He was very confused when they charged his assailant with “wounding with intent”, for example, rather than with attempted murder, when the attack had clearly been an attempt to kill him. It was only later, when the assailant pleaded guilty to wounding with intent and the police subsequently increased the charge to attempted murder, that he realised that pressing the lesser charge initially was strategically sensible as they might not have won their case if they had started with a charge of attempted murder. As it happened, Kurdy’s attacker was found not guilty of attempted murder, mostly because of the skill of the attacker’s defence attorney.
Kurdy notes that he felt marginalised and ignored throughout the investigation and the trial emphasising repeatedly that the legal system is designed to reach a verdict, not to help victims deal with their trauma or to rehabilitate the criminals. As well as being a lesson in humility for him, Kurdy realised how crucial support groups for victims and rehabilitation programs for criminals are as they provide solutions to problems that the legal system is potentially blind to. His experience led him to form I4giveH8, through which he has given numerous talks to school groups, community groups, and survivor forums, as well as getting involved with the Sycamore Tree programme in prisons. Kurdy’s reflections on how victims and perpetrators deal with the consequences of hate crimes are the real heart of this book and are what should be of interest to those working within community projects to counter the radical right. He recounts attending an event called ‘The Many Faces of the Far Right’ in Birmingham, where the majority of people were depressed and discouraged after a day of reflecting on the growing strength of the radical right in Britain. “How you not listened to anything I have said?” he asked the group. “Look, have you ever thought about the question of whether we can in fact absorb the first blow? Somebody comes at you with their aggression and hate and you are able to absorb it and then respond in a different way?” (p. 145)
Without condoning their actions or excusing them legally, Kurdy argues that however difficult it may be, forgiving the perpetrators of hate crimes defuses the power of their agendas and produces healing and reconciliation where before there was division and hurt. He thus offers a powerful way of responding to the radical right which is sadly not considered often enough by policy makers and anti-fascist practitioners. Terrorism and hate crimes are most destructive when they exacerbate and increase fear and hatred. Forgiveness, as Kurdy presents it, takes the power away from the perpetrators and allows the community to regain control of the conversation. Not everyone is capable of forgiving, but for those who can, forgiveness is a powerful weapon indeed.
Dr Roland Clark is a Senior Fellow at CARR, and a Reader in History at the University of Liverpool. See his profile here.
©Roland Clark. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).