Hate crimes against Muslims rise in U.K.

Hate crimes against Muslims are on the rise in the United Kingdom, with women who are veiled or wearing headscarves often the target, Margaret Evans writes from London.

Incidents usually target women who are veiled or wearing headscarves

Radio producer Saba Zaman was attacked verbally and physically on two occasions in London over the past year, targeted she says because of her Muslim faith. (Brian Kelly)

Unsafe in the city she was born and raised in. That's how radio producer Saba Zaman says she feels living in London this past year after being attacked verbally and physically on two occasions, targeted she says because of her Muslim faith.

Islamophobic hate crime in the United Kingdom rose by nearly 50 per cent this year, tripling in London in the week immediately after the recent Paris attacks, the Metropolitan Police say.

"The first Monday [after the Paris attacks] I was in the Tube reading my newspaper as I do every morning and a man spat at me," Zaman says from her Islington office. 

"It is very impolite but I won't allow things like that to faze me."

It was a different matter in February when a man physically assaulted her on the Tube, hurling abuse and trying to grab her hijab. 

"I came in to work and I was so shaken up that I actually burst out crying and it takes a lot to faze me but I think part of it is because I was physically touched and screamed at on the Tube."

The next day, she gathered herself back together and took the Tube again. 

But she says now if she sees a young woman standing or sitting alone on public transport, she goes and stands with her, kind of a protective gesture, offering safety in numbers. 

Targets usually women

The targets are usually women, either veiled or wearing headscarves. In October, a woman was filmed shouting at a woman in a headscarf travelling with a small child and another Muslim woman for more than five minutes on a London bus.

She's seen calling them "ISIS bitches" and telling them to "go back to your f--king country where they're bombing."

"The video was quite unbearable to watch," 22-year-old Seema Yasmin said outside the East London Mosque in Whitechapel not long afterwards. 

Seema Yasmin says a video of a woman shouting at a woman in a headscarf travelling with a small child and another Muslim woman on a London bus 'was quite unbearable to watch.' (Brian Kelly)

"It does make you feel quite unsafe to be around. Even though I've been born and brought up here, it's actually making me a bit wary. Do I need to be careful when I'm on the buses then?"

In an interview before the Paris attacks, the British journalist and author Yasmin Alibhai-Brown said she believes that racism in general is getting worse in the United Kingdom. 

"There's a terrible undercurrent at the moment," she said.

"I come from Uganda. I came here in 1972 and I remember in 1972 sitting in a park, I was spat at because the feeling against our migration was just as bad as it is now. Eight months ago, sitting in a bus on a [London] high street, I was spat at again."

Alibhai-Brown, a Shia-Muslim born into the Ugandan Asian community, does not wear a headscarf. She has written articles denouncing those who would say those who do are somehow more pious.

'How much more integrated can you be?'

"It tells you something," she says of being spat at on the bus. "Because, you know, how much more integrated can you be than I am?  And nobody said anything on the bus, which is another thing."

Hate crime directed at Muslims tends to spike after attacks or coverage in the media. 

Zaman was assaulted in the days after reports about three East London teenagers travelling to Syria to join ISIS

The Metropolitan police force in London says that while world events can contribute to a rise in hate crime, the recent rise can also be attributed to better reporting methods and "a growing willingness of victims to report hate crime."

"We know Muslim communities in London are feeling anxious and we are providing extra patrols and are speaking regularly with local mosques and community leaders to reassure and address concerns, while closely monitoring the situation," the Met said in a statement to CBC. 

Critics within the Muslim community say that the British government's efforts to counter the threat of radicalization have been clumsy and not broad enough in their consultations with local Muslim groups. 

'Diverse nation'

​"Sometimes I feel like as a Muslim I am being demonized in this country even though I have been born and brought up here," says Salman Farsim, a media officer at the East London Mosque.

Scrutiny of the Muslim community can seem driven "by an irrational fear of Muslims," he says.

But despite the increase in hate-crime incidents, Britain is still seen by many as one of the most tolerant European countries when it comes to multicultural and faith issues.  

That's Zaman's feeling despite what she's endured this past year simply for being herself in her own country. 

I am very much a part of this city.- Saba Zaman

"We are quite a diverse nation and London itself is a very diverse city," she says, choosing to focus on the people who, in her case, did come to her defence on the Tube. 

Some British Muslim women have felt so vulnerable and exposed in recent months that they've considered not wearing their headscarves. It's not something Zaman would consider. 

"I cannot allow the action of one man, whether it is a person on the Tube spitting at me or the [incident] in February force me to generalize the whole of the British people because they are my people, too, and I belong. I am very much a part of this city."

About the Author

Margaret Evans

Europe correspondent

Margaret Evans is a correspondent based in the CBC News London bureau. A veteran conflict reporter, Evans has covered civil wars and strife in Angola, Chad and Sudan, as well as the myriad battlefields of the Middle East.


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