Two Muslim cousins, enjoying 21st birthday celebrations, had their lives irrevocably changed on June 21st after becoming disfigured in an acid attack in East London. Sparking a nationwide debate, the rise of acid attacks in the UK is now under the spotlight.
Jameel Mukhtar and Resham Khan were on their way out to celebrate Resham's 21st birthday. As they were waiting at a traffic light in East London, a stranger knocked on their window and then proceeded to throw acid across them both. The attack on the two Muslim cousins is being treated as a hate crime.
Resham, who was hoping to begin a career as a model, has written a letter to the public from hospital, alongside a petition, calling for tougher restrictions over purchasing corrosive substances, which can currently be bought and carried legally. Her letter asks:
"Why are acids the new street weapon? Because corrosive substances are readily available in-store and online for as little as £6.50 and the laws surrounding possession is loose."
Since 2010, almost 2,000 acid attacks have been reported in London alone. Almost a third of these attacks occurred in the borough of Newham, east London. The majority of these cases have not led to trial, with 74% of cases being shelved due to victims being unable to identify perpetrators.
On July 13th, five attacks were carried out in succession across London by young boys on stolen mopeds. Some of victims were delivery drivers on mopeds, prompting a protest from drivers across the workforce. Delivery drivers are targets of regular motor-vehicle robberies, which are increasingly involving acid attacks which aim to debilitate victims.
Across the world, victims of acid attacks are disproportionately female, often carried out by partners or ex-partners, or even family members in cases of 'honour' based violence. However, in the UK both the perpetrators and victims are mostly young men. Experts have suggested one reason for the increase has been tougher regulations on the availability of guns and knives, making acid an attractive and easily available alternative.
In order to stop these attacks, people are calling for stricter laws and regulations when it comes to buying and possessing acid. One solution would be to upgrade acid to a restricted substance, meaning a licence is required for purchase. The police have been provided with rapid response kits in order to be able to treat victims of attacks as quickly as possible at the scene of the crime.
While not all the victims are Muslim, in wake of these attacks, particularly that on the aforementioned Jameel Muhktar and Resham Khan, many Muslims have expressed fear at being in public or event leaving their house, specifically in east London.
This comes at a time of increasing Islamophobia and reports of incidents of hate crime in the wake of both the Brexit referendum and the terrorist attacks that occurred within quick succession this year. Tell MAMA found that racist incidents increased 530% in the week following the suicide attack at an Ariana Grande concert, and reported a 240% increase in anti-Muslim hate in the seven-day period following the London Bridge attack on June 3.
Last weekend, in Southampton, two Muslim women were victims of a "spoof" acid attack in which they were sprayed with water. This suggests some attacks are being used to incite terror within the Muslim community and prevent them from feeling safe or accepted within society.
Many on social media have highlighted that if these attacks, such as the five attacks carried out on July 13th, were perpetrated by Muslims on white passers-by, the media reaction would have been internationally sensationalised, and they would have immediately been declared as terrorist incidents.
Jameel Mukhtar has himself addressed this issue on Channel 4 News, saying:
"If this was an Asian guy like myself, going up to an English couple in a car and acid attacking them, I know for a fact,and the whole country knows, that it would be classed as a terror attack."
Although the attack is being investigated as a hate crime, little attention has been drawn to the extremist motivations of this attack. The perpetrator, 24 year old John Tomlin, had previously made posts expressing solidarity with far-right extremists on Facebook. These include posts shared in 2015 that say: "A sleeping lion can only be provoked so much before it wakes up and attacks...and so will us British," and "We will stand and we will fight. We will reclaim what is rightfully ours. We will not surrender."
At JAN Trust, we run an online support tool www.saynotohatecrime.org that provides victims a direct link to report crimes, and gives recovery advice alongside access to support networks. As long time campaigners against Islamophobia and violence against women and girls, we offer advice and support to anyone suffering in silence.
We also work hard to highlight the underestimated rise in extremism including far right extremism, and our award winning Web Guardians™ programme provides families with the skills to safeguard loved ones from exposure to extremist propaganda. Our vision is to expand this program across the country, alongside our school outreach workshops, in order to stamp out radicalisation in all forms which often motivates these terrorising attacks involving acid.