Remona AlyWednesday 21 June 2017 The Guardian
There is an antidote to hate crime
Following the atrocities at Manchester Arena and London Bridge, Islamophobic attacks went up fivefold. In the week after the Manchester bomb alone, 139 incidents were reported – including abuse of a Muslim surgeon who helped save the lives of those injured. And in London, in the year ending March 2017, 1,260 incidents of Islamophobic hate crime were recorded.
Whenever there’s an Islamist terrorist attack, Muslims brace themselves for the backlash – it’s a position we’ve become grimly accustomed to adopting over the past 15 years. As well as mourning any lives lost, we must prepare for the aftermath: the Muslim pensioner beaten on his way to the mosque; the Muslim women assaulted, spat at, their hijabs ripped off; the petrol bombs at mosques, the bullying at school, the children wetting their beds.
Whether perpetrated by Islamist terrorists, or as misguided “revenge” attacks against innocent Muslims, all of these tragedies affect me. It feels personal, as I’m sure it does to many others. The children murdered in Manchester Arena, the people mown down on London Bridge, the frightened worshippers in Finsbury Park – every single time an innocent is harmed, it’s soul-destroying. And it’s taking its toll. “I’m afraid,” a friend who wears hijab tells me. “I don’t want to feel like this.” I don’t want her to feel like that either. Thankfully, sympathy and empathy are beginning to spread. Finsbury Park’s Muslim Welfare House has had reassuring signs from across communities – whether it’s other faith groups showing solidarity, or shock and outrage on social media, it’s poured balm on the wound.
What we need urgently, however, is for the government to step up. Finally, with Theresa May’s speech and Amber Rudd’s commitments, it appears to be doing so. But did it have to take this awful event for attitudes to change?
The state will have to work hard to earn trust back after years of complacency at rising far-right and Islamophobic sentiment. We need to know it is addressing these threats. In addition, funding should be put back into mental health services, education, housing, arts, and into increasing employment and opportunity for all. We need a strategy that strengthens and supports the whole of society.
Media outlets must stop providing a soapbox from which extremists can project their hatred. Tommy Robinson, founder of the English Defence League, columnist Katie Hopkins and hate preacher Anjem Choudary may have boosted audience figures but their vitriol has done the same for hate-crime figures too. That would go some way towards taking the momentum out of this cycle of terror and “revenge”. Dreading what you’ll wake up to each morning is no way to live. It erodes our collective wellbeing, just as extremists want to erode our quality of life, and to damage our society and its freedoms.
It’s hard to remain unaffected. Only yesterday I felt a pang of fear as I walked around my local, largely white area in my headscarf. But extremists on all sides thrive on that fear – they throw it on to the fire, along with hate and intolerance, and dance around the flames in glee. We can’t let them do that.
Collective culpability is a dangerous fiction. Far-right extremists do not represent all white people. Islamist extremists do not, and never will, represent all Muslims.
I will try to take my cue from the everyday people who responded so sensitively and beautifully to the Finsbury Park attack; from the power of community spirit, the sincere compassion I’ve seen after each challenge aimed at breaking us.
The government is responsible for the safety and welfare of every person in this country – and must do its duty. But we also bear responsibility. If we look out for one another that’s a start.