Westminster. London Bridge. Finsbury Park. Three terrorist attacks in four months. A week after London woke to the terrible tragedy of the Grenfell Tower, we woke to the news that terrorism had struck once more in this city.
A van driver mowed down worshippers exiting the Finsbury Park mosque at 12:20am. The Metropolitan Police were quick to label the attack in Finsbury Park as a terrorist attack, although you would suspect parts of the media might be slower to. The van driver was shouting "I want to kill all Muslims" as he mowed down people, only then to be detained by the very people he was seeking to kill, all the while the Imam was shouting "don't touch him."
There is a clear pattern here: a terrorist attack is followed by a spike in anti-Muslim hate crime. Women in hijabs, easily identifiable as Muslim, are often assaulted. Abuse follows Muslims where they walk, as happened after the London Bridge attack where the Metropolitan Police recorded 20 anti-Muslim hate crime reports on one particular day, a sharp rise from the average of 3.5% last year.
London's diversity and inclusiveness is like the Tube map: different colours but connected all the while. Yet our tolerance shouldn't blind us to the festering extremism that has recently tried to rip the city apart. Extremists on both sides are desperately trying to stoke a war between Muslims and non-Muslims. The attacks on Westminster and London Bridge were not paybacks for foreign wars but attempts by ISIS to make the west inhospitable for Muslims.
The attack last night followed a similar mould, of creating conflict in a time of tense peace. Religious leaders have condemned the attack and preached solidarity but one suspects that this plays heavily into the hands of ISIS. What better evidence for the west being an alien world for Muslims than this? At the same time across the Atlantic, a young woman was kidnapped and murdered as she came out of a mosque in Virginia in a country where the white supremacists are in power.
The far-right and the Muslim extremists fuel each other with their messages of hate and intolerance and their actions. And it is up to each of us to disempower these people lurking within our communities. Liberal, progressive Muslims such as Sara Khan and others have become increasingly outspoken lately, determined to root out the extremists within our community. We understand that extremist ideology lurks on the fringes but grows because of passive indifference from the majority of the community. We recognise that foreign policy plays a part in the radicalisation of Muslim youth but on its own leaves an incomplete story as to how extremists prosper.
Yet fighting extremism is a battle on two fronts and right now the extremism whipped up by white supremacists like Britain First, English Defence League and tabloids like the Daily Mail, Sun and Express, has to be called out better. Islamophobia drives extremism on both sides, stripping Muslims of humanity and empathy and painting us as all illiberal monsters, whilst at the same time reinforcing the message of ISIS to the disenfranchised within our community. The power of racism cannot be understated because it doesn't just affect the disillusioned Muslim. A liberal, well-integrated Muslim like myself will see the looks on the Tube and immediately feel like an alien even though London has been my only home.
So just as Muslims condemn terrorist attacks, and progressive Muslims actively fight Islamist narratives, we need non-Muslims to actively challenge the stereotypes perpetuated by anti-Muslim bigots. The hatred generated by Britain First and Daily Express create a toxic and unbearable atmosphere for all involved. We actively need to hold account those who play a part in Islamophobia; and that includes the newspapers that spread smears and lies about Muslims. For every bad Muslim there are another twenty good ones, who do their bit for society and are good law-abiding citizens. Lies printed across front pages work to demonise the entire Muslim community and paint us all as the inside enemy, erasing the pluralism existing within the community, ignoring that often the first victims of Islamists are other Muslims.
In the days to come, if the media either use the "lone wolf" excuse or explain the killer as a mentally troubled individual, we should not forget the hatred of Muslims that drove his attack. And what should trouble us is the sea of anti-Muslim sources for him to drawn upon. We cannot anymore let hatred go unchecked and unchallenged on either side.
For London this is yet another dark day in a year with too many of them. The only hope is that our tolerance, inclusiveness and diversity continues shining brighter and that no matter what the bigots do, nothing can snuff it out.Suggest a correction