Today marks the third anniversary of Maz Saleem’s father Mohammed Saleem's brutal murder by neo-Nazi Pavlo Lapshyn
I am the very proud daughter of Pakistani immigrants. My father was a baker and a trade unionist. There are millions like my father, Irish, Russian, Jewish, eastern European that have all come here to work and to seek a better life for their families. My father worked extremely hard he did double and triple shifts at the bakery to feed his family. He gave more than he ever received. Racism has always played the role of dividing people, and we should oppose it. This country was founded on immigrants, it’s been supported and nourished by immigrants and we must never forget that.
On the 29 April 2013, my father, Mohammed Saleem, 82 years old at the time was singled out and murdered in Small Heath, Birmingham, on the very road he had lived on for over 30 years. The motive for his death was allegedly because he was brown and dressed like a Muslim. He was followed from the mosque after evening Ishaa prayers finished at 10.10pm by a Ukrainian neo-Nazi terrorist, who had been in the country for less than a week. My father was then stabbed brutally three times from behind.
Pavlo Lapshyn, known for his racist and neo-Nazi activity in Ukraine, was given a work placement in Small Heath – an area densely populated by Muslims. As soon as he entered the country he embarked on a campaign of terror and murder.
Lapshyn is now serving 40 years for my father’s murder and the three mosque bombings in the West Midlands – all acts of terrorism. He was charged under terrorism laws. Yet, to this day, the media, the police and the government have not treated Pavlo as they would if the terrorist was a Muslim.
When Lee Rigby was murdered, three weeks after my dad his murder received global news coverage and cries of protest. But my father’s brutal murder on the street, in a similar attack, received comparatively little attention. Instead of loud and heartfelt condemnation from politicians and the police, instead of hashtags and long discussions about the danger of neo-Nazi beliefs in our society, there was deafening silence. A Muslim terrorist, on the other hand, would certainly have led to conversations about the dangers of radical Islamism.
Similarly, there was little media reporting following the case of 81-year-old Muhsin Ahmed who was punched, kicked and stamped on the head, which led to fatal injuries as he walked to his mosque in Rotherham for morning prayers on 10 August 2015. The murder of Imam Jalal Uddin who was murdered on his way home from mosque in February 2016 was reported in the most disgraceful way - the Times ran the headline ‘Imam beaten to death in sex grooming town’.
Whether the Times decided to change this headline on Twitter after an outstanding amount of complaints, the damage had already been done, as it already had gone to print. The Times, a supposedly 'respectable' broadsheet, has a racist agenda. But despite this propaganda, the EDL and Britain First can be confronted and do not have the same influence as educated, suited and booted figures in the establishment.
In March 2013 Home Office security minister James Brokenshire warned that far-right extremism is a ‘worrying phenomenon’ posing a ‘real’ threat to UK security. Extremists include Terence Gavan, a former British National Party member, who was jailed for 11 years in 2010 after 50 explosive devices and more than 30 guns were found in his concealed room in Batley, West Yorkshire.
The most notorious far-right bomber in the UK was David Copeland, from Yateley, Hampshire, who targeted black people in Brixton, Asians in Brick Lane and gays in Soho with nail bombs. He killed three people and injured 139, including four who lost limbs. Europe’s most notorious hard right extremist, Anders Breivik, bombed government buildings in Oslo, killing eight, and then shot dead 69 people, mostly teenage members of the Norwegian Labour Party, in July 2011.
With the rise of bigotry stirred up by Donald Trump and his supporters in recent months, this has given Islamophobes and far-right extremists more confidence to perpetrate such hate crimes. Consistently biased media reporting or lack of reporting when it comes to Muslim hate crimes and murders has been commonplace in the USA. This is also becoming a problem in the UK.
Since my father’s passing I have been an active campaigner and speaker on racism and Islamophobia. According to David Cameron, we should learn to speak English and we are traditionally submissive. Well, let me tell you David Cameron, I am far from submissive. I have tirelessly campaigned since my father’s death and have been standing up to racism and Islamophobia on a daily basis on many high-profile platforms. His policies have strengthened institutionalised racism, but he blames Muslim women for not learning English, for their lack of opportunity and lack of equality.
He praises "our British values" which he says are "liberal values”. He makes veiled threats that those needing visas extended might be removed if they don't speak English well enough is enough. David Cameron's first language is not actually English. He has proved in recent months that his first language is "Racist Rubbish" and he's pretty good at talking "hypocrisy" too. Cameron’s concern is not with dealing with these issues he is fuelling and adding to the Islamophobia which is burning through the world right now especially in Europe and the US. As with previous waves of racism, it will persecute its victims while doing nothing to improve their situation.
Through the appalling statements of politicians and the media and the actions of parliaments in many European countries we can hear so many echoes of the persecution that took place in the 1930s. The Tories are continuing to whip up racism towards refugees and migrants. David Cameron has refused to let more refugees in, despite the harrowing scenes of people fleeing war and poverty being left to die in the Mediterranean.
At the same time, Theresa May has continued to whip up Islamophobia by pushing the idea that Muslims are the enemy and need to be monitored by the Prevent programme. The government’s infamous agenda in weeding out extremist children from nursery school onwards speaks volumes about how prevalent this narrative really is.
On 12 September 2015, more than 100,000 people marched around the country to say 'refugees are welcome here,' showing the potential for people to beat back the racist tide. Left movements and Unions have smashed the back of fascist organisation, people need to be proud of this, we have smashed the BNP but we cannot be complacent Calais is on our doorstep we cannot ignore what’s going on.
The desperate plight of the refugees, the vast majority of whom are fleeing war in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. So far in January alone, 56,000 refugees have arrived in Greece by sea. The growth in the number of those heading to Europe is far exceeded by those who are still in camps near their country of origin, often in terrible conditions which I witnessed on my recent trip to the Greek and Macedonian borders. War is the main driver for the huge flows of refugees fleeing war, persecution and poverty.
We are still struggling to cope with the tragic loss of our father in my family. We are Muslims and the victims of terrorism. Quite rightly we do not equate all white people with Pavlo Lapshyn, but why are all Muslims treated as potential terrorists? Islamophobia needs to stop and we need to challenge the Tory government's racist rhetoric that is blatantly obvious toward Muslims. The brutal murder of my father may be one of many. But it’s important that we pay attention to the killings of Muslims, each and every one of them, and resist the temptation to turn a blind eye. Islamophobia is increasingly prevalent and Islamophobic attacks will continue to rise thanks to sensationalist media headlines, reinforced by narratives where Muslims are treated as potential terrorists until proven otherwise.
This racism has been inflamed by the Tory government, war and intervention in Muslim countries. By attacking Syria, Britain has now entered into its fourth war in a Muslim country this century and British Muslims are bearing the brunt of this aggression at home. Muslims are enduring intense discrimination in everyday life, at the hands of the media and through government policy. We should all unite and continue to fight this racist tide and stand in solidarity against the Tory government’s racist rhetoric towards Muslims and refugees.
Maz Saleem is the daughter of 82-year-old Mohammed Saleem, who was murdered in Birmingham just yards from his house by Ukrainian far-right terrorist Pavlo Lapshyn. Maz is an active campaigner against racism and Islamophobia in Britain.
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