July 12, 2005
Revenge Attacks and Vandalism Unnerve Muslims in Britain
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ
BIRKENHEAD, England, July 11 - Muslims all over Britain, in small towns and big cities, are beginning to feel the repercussions of Thursday's terrorist attack on London, confirming widespread concerns that resentment over the bombings would spill over into harassment and violence.
In the span of a few days, at least four mosques across England, including one here, have been either partially set on fire or firebombed, according to police, and others have had their windows smashed and their doors vandalized.
Still others have had racist graffiti scrawled on their walls. In one case, a mosque was hit by bloody pig parts, a particular offense to a religion that eschews eating pork, said Azad Ali, the chairman of the Muslim Safety Forum, which serves as an advisory group for the police and has been tracking incidents from police reports and community groups.
The good news, the police say, is that there has been no major damage nor any serious injuries. But across the country, there have been reports of vandalism of businesses, homes and cars, police say.
Sitting on a downtrodden block of boarded-up shops, the Shahjalal Mosque is no more than a small room off the street, with an apartment above; it is as unassuming as it is popular among Muslims in Wirral, an area just across the Mersey River from Liverpool.
But early Saturday morning, long after the assistant imam upstairs had gone to bed, someone tried to set it afire. The attempt did not succeed, mostly because the fire department responded quickly. But the fire still scorched the front door, smoked out the inside and drove out the imam, who was rescued by firefighters.
Now a police officer patrols outside the tiny mosque, just to be safe. "We are facing two fronts," said a Bengali worshiper at the mosque, who like the other men who came to pray, said he was too fearful to provide his name. "We are facing the terrorists and also the backlash. We were surprised by this. This is a nice community, a small community."
Many mosques now have police officers posted outside, particularly during prayer hours. Others have rejected the offer, fearful of appearing more conspicuous.
People, too, have been attacked and harassed. A Muslim man in London was beaten by two passers-by, according to Mr. Ali. A young boy in Barking, East London, was attacked by a gang. Some bus drivers say they have been spat upon. In a few cases, women say they have been ridiculed and had their hijabs - the head scarves worn by many Muslim women - pulled from their heads.
Lord Nazir Ahmed, the first Muslim to join the House of Lords, said that his title gives him no immunity from the bigotry. Just after stepping outside on Friday with his 85-year-old grandmother and 3-year-old granddaughter, a carload of men slowed down, shouted obscenities at them and made an obscene gesture.
"I did not respond," he said in an interview. "We must have patience. We must report it to the police. But we must not fight back. Under any other circumstances, we would fight back. But not now. We must try to understand the hurt and the pain and not give the opportunity to those thugs."
Racist e-mail messages have poured into the Web site of the Muslim Council of Britain, one of Britain's largest Muslim groups, shutting its system down for a time. One warned, "It's time for war on Muslims throughout Britain."
While acknowledging that many incidents go unreported, most that the police know about have been sporadic, isolated and appear not to be getting worse as days pass, reported the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. "We are encouraged by the overall calm community response, locally and nationally, to these terrible events," said Chris Fox, president of the association. "I am cautiously optimistic that common sense and the best instincts of everyone are prevailing."
The response to the terrorist attacks in London last Thursday has been swift and forceful. Muslim groups and imams have denounced the attacks. On Saturday, 500 imams are expected to issue a fatwa, or religious decree, condemning the bombings, a ruling that will outlaw the bombers whoever they may be by stating that the attacks violated Islamic law, Mr. Ahmed said.
The Muslim Council of Britain has also urged the Muslim community to help the authorities in any way they can. In a letter to the country's imams on Monday, Iqbal Sacranie, the secretary general of the group, said, "It is the duty of all of us to help bring the perpetrators of this tragedy to justice speedily."
Political leaders of all faiths have taken pains to warn Britons not to single out Muslims in their anger, stressing that the overwhelming majority of Britain's Muslims had nothing to do with the bombings and are peaceful, productive citizens.
But in neighborhoods where Muslims have often lived for generations among Christians and Jews, the anxiety, if not downright fear, was obvious. The day of the attack, the Islamic Human Rights Commission took the extraordinary step of advising people to stay indoors.
Since then, Muslims say they have tried to go about their business, but always with a sharp eye. Even in Liverpool and Birkenhead, places where Muslims say they have always felt at home, the mood is vigilant. "We are worried about revenge," said Musa Farah, a Somali worshiper at a mosque in Liverpool. "We are very worried about this mosque."
A few blocks away, Mariam Gulaid, a Somali who has lived in Liverpool for 26 years and wears a hijab, said she is angry about the bombings. But she is also bitter about the jitters she now feels when she walks around with her head covered, or even when she comes home to her house, a stone's throw from a mosque. "It is not just English people who died in the bomb," she said. "They were white, black and Muslim. Everyone suffered."
What looks like a low-level incident on a police report often cuts much deeper in person. In the Yorkshire city of Rotherham, Malik Naeem, a 41-year-old Pakistani man, said he was startled by three loud kicks at his front door on Thursday evening. When Mr. Naeem opened the door, a neighbor, a young man he has known for years, shouted, "You people are killing our innocent people, and I am going to kill you."
Five minutes later he heard a crashing boom. "He threw a full-size brick through my main window," Mr. Naeem said. The police took the man away, but Mr. Naeem said he cannot sleep with worry about the safety of his four children.
"I am at the moment very scared," said Mr. Naeem, who has lived in the neighborhood for nine years. "One thing happened and now I am afraid something will happen again. From my insides, I know it."