August was a bad month for Muslims in the United Kingdom. Unprovoked and vicious attacks against practising Muslims left one dead and others seriously injured. The victims were all British citizens and the local press was quick to report the incidents without linking them to the growing Islamophobia affecting segments of English society, particularly people belonging to the blue collar class.
In the first incident, an 81-year-old grandfather, a pensioner, who was on his way to the local mosque in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, in the early hours of the morning to offer his prayers, was blindsided by some men and viciously kicked and beaten. According to the chief inspector overseeing the investigation, the victim, Mohsen Ahmad “was dressed in traditional clothing on his way to the mosque when he was attacked, which is one possible motive for the attack upon him”.
He was taken to hospital where he succumbed to his injuries and died a few days later. Two men from the town have since been charged with assault with intent. An official of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said: “This is an absolutely disgusting and horrific crime against an elderly man. We hope the perpetrators are brought to justice and serve a time fitting that of taking the life of a ‘gentle’ grandfather. More recently, we have seen a worrying upsurge in attacks on Muslims. We urge our government and police to do more to tackle this menace head-on and have a strategy in place to counter the growth in hate crimes against Muslims.”
In another incident, a gang of youths set upon a male Muslim nurse and beat him up badly in broad daylight. The incident happened in the town of Stockport in Greater Manchester. Nine members of a white youth gang pounced on Qaiser Hamid, the 37-year-old nurse while he was shopping on the main street at the town centre. It started with a teenage girl shouting about his beard and racially abusing him before her male friends began punching him in the face.
Qaiser, was later rushed to the hospital for treatment to cuts and bruises to his face, including a deep gash to his nose. The incident has scarred him mentally. “I got punched by one of them and I tried to defend myself ... then they were all hitting me. I took lots of blows. The shop was covered in blood as I was bleeding all over the place. It was completely unprovoked. I don’t feel good and I don’t want to go back to Stockport. I have been really affected psychologically and struggle to get out of the house. It was definitely racially motivated. They kept mentioning my beard and my wife was wearing a headscarf.”
It took the Stockport police more than 15 minutes to respond to the attack, after being called in by the neighbourhood shopkeepers, while the gang loitered nearby and continued to shout threats before dispersing. The excuse from the police was: “We’ve had quite a lot of youths congregating around Stockport centre over the last week and it culminated into this incident. Officers got to it as quickly as they could, but had a lot of other incidents to deal with around the same time.”
In Nelson, Lancashire, two men on their way to the mosque on two separate occasions were shot at with air rifles. The first incident happened when a 58-year-old man was hit in the back of his head as he was getting into his car at the parking area near the mosque after offering evening prayers. Less than 24 hours later, a similar incident occurred at the same car park when a 56-year-old man was hit by a pellet in his neck as he was on his way to the mosque. Both men sustained minor injuries and received medical treatment at hospital. Somebody has been using Muslims on their way to offer prayers as target practice. A statement released by the police was not very reassuring.
An inspector from the police said: “At this stage, the motive behind these incidents is unclear and we are yet to establish whether the two are linked. We understand these incidents may cause concern in the area and I would like to reassure residents that there will be an increased police presence. An investigation to find out who is responsible is already under way and I would urge people to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity.”
Hello officers! Open your eyes. Haven’t you heard of hate crimes? All three incidents involved victims who were going about their business and were intercepted by thugs. It does not need deep analysis to understand the motivation behind these incidents. Dismissing the racial and ethnic motives behind such violence is brushing it under the carpet. The consequences will be that both nonviolent and violent abuses will become more frequent.
While mainstream British media played down the Islamophobia angle, all these crimes were hate crimes and must be investigated thoroughly. The UK government has to recognise this growing disease and institute a national strategy to combat it.
— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@talmaeena