THE BLOG

When It Comes to Arson Attacks on a Mosque, We Are All Muslims

01/12/2015 09:53 GMT | Updated 30/11/2016 10:12 GMT

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I was shocked to hear the news of Friday night's attempted arson attack at Finsbury Park Mosque, which is on the boundary of my ward and is used by many of my constituents. I have taken part in some of the open days they have run for schools and the rest of the community, so I feel I know the place reasonably well. Thank goodness for the rain that mean the fire went out and did not take hold.

I am even more shocked by some of the comments I found on Twitter. I probably shouldn't be surprised that there are people lurking in the darker corners of social media who think it's acceptable to publicly wish for every mosque in the country to be burned down, "preferably when full to the rafters". But in this case those worshippers are my friends, neighbours and constituents, and hate-filled attitudes like that sicken me to the stomach.

Some of the mainstream media doesn't help. "Mosque suffers petrol bomb attack in revenge for Paris attacks," reads the Twitter version of the Daily Express headline. Aside from the fact that the headline writer is claiming to know an unknown arsonist's mind, that bald statement lends legitimacy to the idea that there is some connection between the terrorists who ran amok in the French capital and ordinary Muslims in North London.

Let's be in no doubt: there isn't. Back in the days when the Finsbury Park Mosque was run by Abu Hamza, there might conceivably have been. He was a preacher of hate, weapons were found inside the mosque, and it's right that he is now in prison.

But under its present chairman Mohammed Kozbar, a brilliant community ambassador, the mosque has gone out of its way to build community relations and live in harmony not discord with its neighbours.

Extremism is undoubtedly a threat in London. I was travelling in one of the trains which were the target of a failed bomb attack on 21 July 2005 - mercifully no lives were lost on that occasion - so I need no lessons in the potential dangers. But if there's one thing I know, it's that Finsbury Park Mosque under its present visionary leadership has been doing amazing work to promote community cohesion and challenge extremism.

We live in a tinder-box world of fear and uncertainty, as the Muslim communities who have suffered a threefold increase in hate crimes since Paris know as well as anyone. In such times, we should all be grateful for people like Mohammed Kozbar, who see the value for all of us in living side by side in peace.

I'm proud to know him and I'll be honoured to take part in Friday evening's vigil outside the mosque to say no to Islamophobia, racism and anti-Muslim hate crime.

Caroline Russell is the Green Party's No.2 candidate for the London-wide section of the London Assembly. She is a councillor for Highbury East ward in Islington