Islamophobic attacks should be classed as terror-related and not simply hate crimes, the chairman of Finsbury Park Mosque has said.
UK authorities must “be consistent” when it comes to how terror-style attacks, Mohammed Kozbar said, as he revealed he supported a change in the law that saw Islamophobic violence included.
Speaking at a local government conference in Birmingham, he said police and the media “always find excuses” for a terror-style crime to be recorded differently when an attacker is non-Muslim.
The mosque was the target of a terror attack last month when 47-year-old Darren Osborne drove a van into a crowd of Muslims as they left midnight prayer, killing one and injuring several others.
Kozbar revealed he had to “work hard” for the incident to be deemed a terror attack and ministers initially refused to call a national minute’s silence in respect to the event, as they had done in the wake of the Manchester and London Bridge attacks.
When asked from a member of the audience if the failure to categorise Islamophobic attacks as terror could fuel radicalisation and if it was “time for the Government to introduce legislation to categorise Islamophobia as more than just a hate crime”, Kozbar said: “Yes, I agree with you.
“We were hearing at that time [of the Finsbury Park Mosque attack] that we were talking about a mental health issue with the attacker and [it was] just shifting the whole thing to a mental health problem rather than it is a terrorist attack.
“We had to work hard and the council had to work hard with the police to make sure that the word terrorism was there.
“I think there is a feeling in the Muslim community when the attacker is non-Muslim attacking the Muslim community we always find excuse, we say ‘lone attacker’ or ‘mental health problems’ or whatever, ‘he’s bankrupt’, ‘he’s got issues with his family’. We start putting excuses to him.
“With the other attacks, it is terrorism and nobody argues with that. It is terrorism.
“We don’t give any excuse to these people who do what they did in Manchester or at Southwark or elsewhere but, on the other hand, we have to be consistent on that and deal with all these issues on the same level.”
It comes as police record a spike in Islamophobic attacks, with the Met reporting a 40% rise in the weeks following the London Bridge attack.
Kozbar added that Government ministers resisted holding a national one-minute silence after the Finsbury incident.
He said: “The Government didn’t want to do it and we had to put a lot of pressure on when the minister Sarah Newton came to the mosque.
“We asked why there wasn’t a one-minute silence nationally for the attack as had happened with Manchester and Southwark and elsewhere.
“So, after that they agreed to do it. Sometimes, as a Muslim community and a community in general, we have to engage in a positive way.”
Kozbar also said that he had lodged a complaint with the BBC when the mosque attack did not become a topic on Question Time the same week.
He also voiced that the mosque was repeatedly linked with the radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza, who preached hatred there 12 years ago, by the media, as it was now a changed place.
He said: “I have to admit it was a controversial mosque at that time, in 2005, when we used to see police presence all the time and media outside the mosque and many times far-right extremists down to protest.
“In 2005, when the community, given the chance and the opportunity, to get involved and engage in a positive way, they made a difference.
“They changed this place from a hostile to a cohesive place.”