From Arson to Vicious Assaults: The Reality of Daily Life for Muslims

By Ian Herbert and Ian Burrell | The Independent (London, England), January 4, 2002 | Go to article overview
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From Arson to Vicious Assaults: The Reality of Daily Life for Muslims


Ian Herbert and Ian Burrell, The Independent (London, England)


SHERAZ GHAFOOR is so wearily resigned to a daily battery of racist abuse that when two young white men walked into his Hull off- licence and warned that he and his family would "burn in their beds" in the small flat above, he thought little of it. "We just assumed it was more of the same," said the 20-year-old.

It was a grave and almost deadly miscalculation of the level of hatred being felt towards him. At 1.30am, six days after the warning, the doors to his premises were forced open, an accelerant was tipped across the floor and within minutes an explosion had reduced the building to a shell.

The force of the blast, in the city's Stoneferry district, threw the metal security shutters into the road and destroyed much of his stock and possessions but by pure chance Mr Ghafoor, his wife Neelam, and their two children - aged 14 months and three months - were away visiting friends that night. "Every time I look at the shop I can just see four dead bodies lying on the floor," said Mr Ghafoor, who has since taken his young family into hiding in Bradford. "We are so lucky we were out for the night."

The attack on 19 November, which is being investigated as racist by Humberside Police, is not entirely out of keeping with the misguided minority which has encumbered Hull with a dubious race relations history in recent years. Asylum-seekers were forced to flee for London after a knuckle-duster attack last year.

But it is also an extreme example of a new way of life for Muslims who have been living with an overwhelming increase in race attacks since 11 September, according to figures released by the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC). For while the media spotlight may have shifted from the attacks, the attacks themselves have not disappeared.

The Commission has logged details of more than 400 attacks on Muslims in Britain since the terrorist hijackings in the US - four times the number it has received in an entire year since it was established four years ago.

Details of the attacks, which are fed to the Commission by its 300 field workers and passed on by other Muslim organisations, show they range from nuisance phone calls to hammer attacks. But an increased proportion are of a physical nature according to the IHRC and many are not reported to the police - which means that, as ever, race crime statistics are not painting an entirely accurate picture of the British Muslim experience.

"There is still not a high level of trust in the police and their ability to stop this to make people report it," said Arzu Merali, director of research at the IHRC.

The level of racist abuse does not remotely compare with that felt by American Muslims since 11 September. In the US, two people have died at the hands of racists while the most serious British attack recorded by police was an attack on a London taxi driver in September.

But the degree of low-level abuse is considerable, particularly that experienced by easily identifiable Muslim women wearing the hijab whom the IHRC's data reveal to be victims of more attacks than men. Though the attacks are nearly always in public places, non- Muslims do not tend to intervene.

At 6pm on the day after the World Trade Centre attack, a 20-year- old university student boarded a crowded bus in Longsight, Glasgow, and was heading for her sister's house when a white man sitting behind her said "you Muslim bastard" and hit her over the head with a fizzy drink bottle. The 20-year-old was dazed but no-one came to her help.

"I didn't know what to do, the driver didn't do anything even though he saw what had happened," she said. "The bus was full. It is a sad thing that because of anti-Muslim feeling no one came to my rescue." Much of the abuse is more insidious.

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