As Hate Crimes Rise, British Muslims Say They’re Becoming More Insular

Steven Erlanger, New York Times, February 14, 2014

Alum Rock, a neighborhood of Birmingham, looks the way Pakistan might, if Pakistan were under gray northern skies and British rule.

The streets are lively but orderly, with shops that provide the largely South Asian population with most of its needs. The huge Pak Supermarket, with its 10-kilogram bags of spices and rices, is matched by the nearby Pak Pharmacy. Nearly every face is South Asian, and people wear a vibrant mixture of clothing, from Western styles to head scarves, knitted caps and full-face veils, or niqabs.

But the Muslims of Alum Rock, Washwood Heath and Sparkbrook, who make up most of the more than 21 percent of Birmingham’s population who declare Islam as their religion, are newly uneasy, they say. The backlash from the killing of a white soldier, Lee Rigby, in London in May by two fanatical young British Muslims, combined with anxieties about the flow of jihadis between Britain and Syria and the sometimes harshly anti-immigrant tone of leading British politicians have combined to create a new wariness among British Muslims.

“It is a less comfortable country than it used to be,” said Sadruddin Ali, 35, born and raised here.

Anti-Muslim hate crimes are up, the police and Muslim advocacy groups say. In response, many British Muslims say they are becoming more insular and more reluctant to leave their areas of Britain’s big cities, where they are among other Muslims and South Asians.

To many Muslims and non-Muslims, that is a worrying trend in what is considered to be a generally tolerant country as it heads toward the 2015 general election. A divided Conservative Party has a populist, anti-immigration party to its right in the U.K. Independence Party, and even the opposition Labour Party is supporting restrictions on benefits for immigrants.

“There is more hostility and more aggression,” Mr. Ali said.

He mentioned the firebombing of a nearby mosque after the Rigby killing, as well as the fatal stabbing in April of Mohammed Saleem, 82, as he left a local mosque. His attacker was a recent Ukrainian immigrant, who also placed three small bombs outside mosques. In June, a police officer and three other people were stabbed outside another Birmingham mosque.

In other parts of Britain, Mr. Ali said, “I feel a bit intimidated and don’t feel welcome, to be honest.” When he travels, he is often pulled aside at the airport for special questioning, he said, adding that this happened “even when I was cleanshaven.”

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In London, anti-Muslim episodes rose from 318 in 2011 and 336 in 2012 to 500 by mid-November in 2013, the police reported. The Greater Manchester Police recorded 130 offenses in 2013 compared with 75 in 2012. The West Midlands Police force, which covers Birmingham, reported in response to a freedom of information act request that there were 26 anti-Islamic hate crimes in 2011, 21 in 2012 and 29 through October 2013.

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