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The Finsbury Park Attack Is Emblematic Of Growing Islamophobia - A 7/7 Survivor Calls For Unity

5 JULY 2017

It was the end of Tarawih night time prayers, during the Holy Month of Ramadan, when worshippers were mercilessly attacked by a driver seeking to target the Muslim community. This attack has tragically left one dead and at least ten injured.


The alleged attacker has been named as Darren Osborne, a 47-year-old father of four. After he rode into those coming out from Finsbury Park Mosque and the nearby Muslim Welfare House, he is alleged to have shouted “I want to kill all Muslims - I did my bit”.


As the only Muslim survivor of the 7/7 bombings, my shock and anguish at this attack is twofold. It is a stark reminder of the importance of tackling both terrorist activity and of the rising tide of Islamophobia we have seen since the Brexit vote.


Mr Osborne has since appeared in court via a video link from Belmarsh prison, and is due to return for a preliminary hearing on 20 July. He faces charges for terrorism related murder and attempted murder.


Neighbours in Pentwyn, where he lived, have described him as “aggressive” and “strange”. He was not known to the police, but it has now come to light that he had a history of Islamophobia, once telling a 10-year old Muslim neighbour that he was an “inbred”, and was recently thrown out of a local pub for “cursing Muslims and saying he would do some damage”.


The Finsbury Park attack coincided with The Great Get Together, gathering in memory of the late MP, Jo Cox. In June last year, she was shot twice in the head, once in the chest, and then brutally stabbed fifteen times by far right extremist Thomas Mair as he yelled “Britain first”. Jo Cox was a passionate defender of the EU and immigrant welfare, and for this reason she was labelled a ‘collaborator’ and ‘traitor’ by Mair.


It is hard not to see a parallel between the statements made by these attackers, and those in the mainstream media in the wake of recent Islamic terrorist attacks, for example Katie Hopkins’ statement calling for a “final solution”.


The UN committee on the elimination of racial discrimination have stated that British politicians are responsible in fuelling the steep rise in racist hate crimes seen during and after the referendum campaign. By failing to condemn xenophobic rhetoric and by entrenching prejudices, politicians contribute to politically legitimising Islamophobia and far-right extremist views.


The Finsbury Park attack is emblematic of growing Islamophobia in society. In the wake of recent Islamist terrorist attacks, hate crime figures have soared. The Mayor of London’s office recorded a fivefold increase in Islamophobic attacks after the London Bridge attack. Tell MAMA has found that racist incidents increased 530% in the week following the suicide attack at an Ariana Grande concert, and reported a 240% increase in anti-Muslim hate in the seven-day period following the London Bridge attack on June 3.


For JAN Trust, these are not just abstract statistics - this is our direct personal experience. My organisation, and I as a Muslim woman, have long been the target of far-right racist abuse including hate mail, death threats and vandalism to my property and my centre. The women who we educate and empower at our centre have had similar experiences, with our records showing a 31% increase in Islamophobic incidents this year.


Compared to the public awareness of Islamic extremism, there is little appreciation of the growing threat of far-right extremism. From our work at the forefront of anti-extremism education, one issue that we repeatedly find is that people are often not aware that extremism and radicalisation is also done by the far-right.


The number of suspected far-right extremists reported to the Government’s counter-terror programme Prevent has increased by 30% in the past year and from our own research, we are well aware of the growing presence of the far right online.


In the same way that the Muslim community have been active in challenging and preventing Islamic extremism, there needs to be more done at the community level to prevent far right extremists from influencing people. Supporting a national narrative of unity, diversity and coexistence is at the heart of prevention, and should not be undermined by our politicians or by sensationalism in the mainstream media.


While we are happy to see that the Finsbury Park attack is being treated with the severity it deserves and recognised as an act of terrorism, there is still a long way to go. In the meantime, to ensure the safety of our Muslim communities across the UK, JAN Trust is calling for on the government to take stronger action against the rising problem of Islamophobia.


Mosques and Islamic centres need to be protected by police to prevent further attacks, and the community needs to know that incidents of hate crime and Islamophobia should not be tolerated, and that they will be punished.


It is time to double our efforts to tackle extremism in all its forms. We aim to continue JAN Trust’s hard work in preventing radicalisation through our grassroots education and training programmes.


As Prime Minister Theresa May said following the London Bridge attack “enough is enough”.

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