Islam, Muslim and extremist: concepts that in recent years define a whole community that has seen itself submerged in a wave of racism and violent attacks.
Virginia Moreno Molina
On March 22, 2017, there was a terrorist attack close to the Palace of Westminster in the English capital, where a car was driven into pedestrians. A week later, and according to the Metropolian Police of London, hate crimes had “risen slightly”.
Just two months later, on May 22, a suicide killer carried out an attack during a concert by Ariana Grande in Manchester. Just over a month later the police announced that islamophobic attacks had risen by 500% in the city.
Later, on June 3, 2017 it returned to the English capital. Three occupants of a van began running over pedestrians on London Bridge, then jumped out of the vehicle and stabbed passers-by near Borough Market. According to figures compiled by the Metropolitan Police, islamophobic crimes increased five-fold after this attack.
Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, or any other religion or community found themselves involved during these incidents. Some of their members through being injured, others by offering their help or condemnation for what had happened.
However, these attacks were described as “islamist terrorism”, putting the Muslim community in the cross-hairs, and attracting yet again, a negative attention which has provoked the increase in violent attacks towards this group.
But on June 19, during the month of Ramadan, Muslims living in Finsbury Park, North London became the target, when a van began running over pedestrians close to Muslim Welfare House. This building is less than 90 metres from a mosque. The result was 10 injuries and one death.
Mohammed Kozbar, leader of the Finsbury Park mosque spoke to The Prisma about what happened, the media coverage of it, about Islam as a peaceful religion and about stereotypes.
Day after day, the audience, whether of a newspaper, TV or using a computer was bombarded with all kinds of news. However, when it is a question of the Muslim community, “there is a double standard in the way these issues are dealt with”, explains Mohammed, who thinks that some newspapers did not cover the story correctly.
And, he adds “they (the media) didn’t call it a terrorist attack until the next day. “Some tried to link these attacks, to justify them, saying that it was near Finsbury Park that Abu Hamza al-Masri used to pray”, he explains.
Abu Hamza al-Masri is an imam accused of extremism, who used to preach in the Finsbury Park mosque. But this happened years ago, and the place has changed a lot in the meantime, becoming a spiritual centre open to the whole community.
Even so, the stories continued. “We are asking the media to be responsible, and for this attack to be treated like the other cases”, says Kozbar, adding that this is happening because that connection that is made with his religion, and ends up in some degree, causing the result that “hate crimes against Muslims are increasing”.
Fortunately, after the attack, a wave of solidarity took hold of the area and its different communities, of whatever religion: “If there is anything positive that came out of this terrible attack, it is the way the community has come together”.
Kozbar makes special mention of women, “who are more visible through wearing the hijab”, he explains. This has led to the most abused people in the Muslim community being the women.
The attacks against this group have multiplied and intensified, and in part, it can be said that this is due to lack of knowledge about the Muslim community, together with the negative bombardment by the media.
“There have been some improvements, especially with the police, but there are still more things that can be done”.
After the attack on the mosque, Theresa May visited the place. “When she came after the attacks on the Finsbury Park mosque, she mentioned that she would take action to protect the community. So, we are still waiting to see what she is going to do”, he recalls.
So far, there have been no changes, which is reflected in the continuation of harassment, incidents involving acid, intimidation of Muslim women, or the unprovoked aggressions that are experienced by believers in Islam.
Specifically, he says: “We want the government and the police to take this more seriously, deal with it, and bring offenders to justice, so that people think twice before making an attack”.
Moreover, Kozbar highlights an important fact: “We don’t receive protection in the same way as members of other religions”.
For Mohammed, a number of factors have contributed to the situation of uncontrolled radicalism and invasions in countries in the Middle East.
“Generally domestic factors in each country, and the foreign policies which have led to invasions in countries such as Afghanistan or Iraq”, he explains.
But there is something which most people don’t understand about these extremist groups: “The majority of people being killed by ISIS are Muslims”, he states.
However, this mistaken idea pursues Muslims, making their integration into society more difficult, through being labelled as extremists. In fact, according to a report produced by the US National Counterterrorism Center, in 211, members of the Muslim community suffered between 82 and 97% of the terrorist attacks in the previous five years.
This analysis also points out that attacks against Muslims are seven times more frequent than those against members of other religions.
This situation is mainly due to the fact that the majority of terrorist attacks happen in Muslim-majority countries.
All this is shown in the figures produced in 2015 by the Global Terrorism Index, where it is made clear that out of the 10 countries with the largest terrorist threat, eight of them are majority-Muslim.
These countries are Libya, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Pakistan and Egypt.
Stereotypes of Islam
“As a Muslim, I find Islam to be the perfect religion”, says Mohammed. However, this religion is mostly seen as repressive in certain aspects, especially towards women. He says: “We must make sure that when we talk about Islam, we need to be clear about what is religion and what is culture, before we talk about religious issues”.
Mohammed explains that “Islam gives women equality; for example, no-one forces them to put on a hijab, they wear it if they want to”.
Other popular mistakes come from words that are misinterpreted. One of the best-known is Jihad. “People have misunderstood this to mean fighting and killing”, explains Kozbar. Indeed, with just a quick search through dictionaries and online, this term is translated as ‘holy war’, although the exact translation is ‘effort’.
‘Holy war’ on the other hand would be translated into Arabic as alharb almuqadasa. So, why has this confusion arisen?
“When people hear the word jihad, many of them translate it in line with their own agenda, and try to make people afraid of it”, explains Kozbar. “We need to show our religion in the way it really is, and not how people say it is”, he says.
Regrettably, this task is compromised by the general climate of fear, making it more difficult for this group to reach other communities.
“Unfortunately, despite the efforts we are making, we have still not arrived at the point at which we can say that people understand Islam”, says Kozbar.
For him, the biggest problem is that when they do something positive, it goes wrong and all the attention is focused negatively towards our community.
In his opinion: “There are people who are Muslims, who are damaging our religion, and they don’t care because they have their own agenda, and they have been brain-washed by others into understanding Islam in the wrong way”. And, “We condemn any attack, but we don’t ask forgiveness, because it is not done in our name, we are not responsible, we are victims like everybody else”.
“To condemn, is different from apologising”, says Kozbar bluntly, “I don’t agree with those who apologize if they had nothing to do with it”.
(Translated by Graham Douglas Email: firstname.lastname@example.org) – Photos: Pixabay