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Stand up to hatred—Muslims speak out

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The attacks in Paris have unleashed an Islamophobic backlash in France and across the world. Muslims in Britain spoke to Socialist Worker about their experiences of the rise in racism—and explained why ordinary Muslims shouldn’t be expected to apologise for Isis
Issue 2481
Britains newspapers unleashed a wave of Islamophobic tirades after the Paris attacks
Britain’s newspapers unleashed a wave of Islamophobic tirades after the Paris attacks (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Muslims in Britain are under increasing attack following the killings in Paris earlier this month. Islamophobia monitoring group Tell Mama said reported attacks soared by over 300 percent in the week after the attacks.

Shabina Bano from Birmingham told Socialist Worker, “For the first time in my whole life I have felt the rise in racism myself.

“It’s the first time I’ve feared for my parents.

“I felt I was being stared at. I felt the difference—I felt hostility.

“I used to smile at people and get a smile back. Now people look straight through me, or I’ve noticed they stand a bit further away from me.”

She added, “My ten year old son is worried. It’s all over the news. He’s said to me, ‘Please don’t go into town,’ because he worries about what might happen.”

Muserat Sujawal, an anti-war activist in Leeds, felt the same.

“I feel a shift in the atmosphere after Paris,” she said. “You think you’re being paranoid or silly at first, noticing differences in how people look at you.

“But then I think, I am an adult and I’m not imagining this.

“Just last night I was having a conversation where someone spoke about hearing things about pigs’ heads being ordered in butchers.

“You get flashbacks to what it was like after 9/11 and think, oh my god here we go again.”

Muserat said this spike in racism towards Muslims follows a “slow but steady rise in Islamophobia”.


Just last month the Home Office released statistics showing that religious hate crime had increased by

43 percent in the past year. The statistics showed that most victims were Muslims.

The Metropolitan Police released figures in September showing that Islamophobic crimes in London had shot up by 70 percent in the past year.

Shortly after that the Home Office said it would start recording Islamophobic crimes as a

separate category—bringing it in line with Antisemitic attacks.

Muserat said, “I do think there’s been a massive change over the last few years generally.

“Muslim women have been spat at in the street and kicked.

“Some have had their hijabs pulled off. There’s a level of bullying that you can see in schools.”

Ashiq Hussain, from the anti-racist We Are Bradford campaign group, agreed. He said, “Every day you see another story, whether it’s someone being abused or a mosque being attacked.

“I feel it when I go to London, or Leeds or Manchester.

“I was in the Arndale shopping centre in Manchester the other week with my wife and my baby in the pram. A man about 30 years old walked past us and called us extremist motherfuckers.”

Certain groups in particular, such as university Islamic Societies (Isocs), have become the focus for racist abuse.

Student Zeinab Edah-Tally

Student Zeinab Edah-Tally (Pic: Socialist Worker )

Zeinab Edah-Tally from the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (Fosis) told Socialist Worker, “There’s been a number of Isocs that have contacted us at Fosis to say that they’re being abused or messaged.

“People saying things like, we’ll get you for what you did in Paris.”

But one of the most targeted groups for Islamophobic attacks are Muslim women.

Tell Mama said that “street based anti-Muslim hatred is also gender specific”. Perpetrators are mainly “white males and the victims are mainly visible Muslim females”.

It told of how a white man had shouted at a young woman in a busy north London Tube station during rush hour.

He told her to “f*** off back to Syria because girls do not wear hijabs in England”.

Manchester activist Nahella Ashraf

Manchester activist Nahella Ashraf (Pic:

Activist Nahella Ashraf, from Manchester, said, “Women seem to be an easier target now for racists. It’s a combination of racism and sexism, because we’re very visibly out there.

“It’s confusing for the racists.

“On the one hand they think Islam is a backward religion, and then they see us out there being quite loud and quite proud to be Muslim.

“I think that seems to offend the racists even more.”

She added, “What’s really disorientating is that it’s not happening on a quiet street on your way home from a late night out.

“It’s very open, and when you’re surrounded by people.”

This is nothing new, Nahella said. But the aftermath of the Paris attacks has added to people’s fears.

She said, “I’m going to the theatre with a group of friends tomorrow night. And the discussion is, do we want to use public transport on the way back.

“I was really surprised. It’s not that late and we do it quite often.

“I think that’s a result of what’s happened in Paris, and the awareness that Muslim women are a target because of the hijab.

“It’s not a normal discussion to have. But it was raised specifically on the back of Paris.”

‘More bombing carnage is not the answer’

Ashiq Hussain, an anti-racist activist from Bradford

Ashiq Hussain, an anti-racist activist from Bradford

Politicians and the media have always tried to associate Isis with all Muslims in order to imply that the “Muslim community” is responsible for “extremism”.

This became even more intense in the wake of the Paris attacks.

On Wednesday of last week, the Muslim Council of Britain took out a newspaper ad to condemn the attacks on behalf of Muslims.

Nahella explained that this reflected the pressure that many Muslims come under to distance themselves from Isis.

She said, “Isn’t that an expression of fear? It’s not saying, we accept responsibility. It must be a case of, we’re really scared.

“We know that up and down the country people are being attacked. Mosques are being attacked. When you link that with what the government’s doing around extremism and Prevent, there’s some genuine concerns among Muslims —and rightly so.

“They’re repeat targets for the government already. And now they’re in the spotlight. It’s like we’ve got to justify that we’re not criminals.”

She added, “I’ve had discussions with some people who’ve said, ‘Well maybe we should do something to show that we don’t support Isis’.

“But the problem for us isn’t Isis. The problem for us is the way the media and in particular the government connect what happens in terrorist attacks and Muslims here.

“I think Muslims, and in particular young people, are quite conscious of not falling into that trap.”

None of the people who spoke to Socialist Worker thought that Muslims should have to publicly apologise or condemn Isis.

Ashiq said, “Isis have got nothing to do with Islam—everything they do is against Islam.

“But they’re being associated with Islam—and that’s being created by our government.”


He said that the answer was to educate people in all communities about different cultures, and that the government had to make that happen.

He said, “We need to differentiate between Islam and Isis—show them the truth about Isis. We need to learn about each other’s way of life and each other’s cultures.”

Nimao, a health worker in east London, also wanted to differentiate between Islam and Isis. She said, “What happened in Paris last week was tragic and horrendous.

“Islam does not condone such actions and many Muslims around the world unequivocally reject such actions too.”

But she added, “What I find disturbing is that a whole religion can be tarnished and misunderstood because of the actions of some wayward individuals.

“I don’t think that Muslims should be made to feel that they should apologise for what has happened in Paris. That would imply that all Muslims have a direct link with terrorism.”

Nimao said the cause of the attacks lay with Western governments—and that they shouldn’t be used as an excuse for more war.

One apologises when one has committed an offence, such as the way the government has dealt with the Middle East.

Nimao from east London 

She said, “One apologises when one has committed an offence, such as the way the government has dealt with the Middle East.

“Isis and its affiliates have been born out of years and years of injustice towards Muslim people around the globe, they didn’t appear from nowhere.

“But they have a distorted and disturbing interpretation of what Islam is all about and most of their actions are born out of frustration and anger.

“How would we feel if we witnessed bloodshed and injustice on a daily basis?” she added. “Going on a bombing rampage to cause further mayhem and carnage is definitely not the answer and will cause an even bigger problem than we have already.”

Imam and campaigner Suliman Gani also warned that the attacks would be used to whip up Islamophobia as an excuse to bomb Syria.

He said, “The media want to create the impression that Muslims want to take over. Islamophobia is rising fast.

“The government will use people’s fears to tighten border controls so many refugees will suffer.

“They are also pushing through new laws that seem to be a response to Paris—but there is an agenda.

“Suddenly we find France dropping bombs on Syria.

“More and more innocent people will die. The British government also has an agenda to make a new war on Syria. Over a million lost their lives in Iraq. The governments should be apologising for that.”

That’s why many Muslims are arguing that the task ahead is to tackle Islamophobia head on—and fight against the drive for war.

Muserat said, “I worry that we are being used as pawns by rich and powerful people.

“They are manipulating ordinary people for their own ends.

“Now David Cameron is talking more about war in Syria.

“I am hoping that people see through it. I was involved in the Stop the War movement.

“If we are alive and kicking, it holds more power and weight and can make a difference.”

Nahella added, “The key thing is not allowing the racists to get a foothold. It’s really important that when Ukip stand in the Oldham by-election next month, as many people as possible campaign against them.

“But organisations such as Stop the War and Stand Up to Racism are really key as well. If the government decides to start bombing Syria, it’s really important that we mobilise.”

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