We need to understand the sources of Islamophobia and stand with Muslims when they are under attack, argues Zara Nelson
On Sunday, 17 January, Totterdown mosque in Bristol was attacked during prayer service by a cowardly group of racists who threw bacon sandwiches at the building, hung up a St. George’s flag bearing “No mosque wanted here” and hurled abuse at elderly worshippers as they exited the mosque.
This comes after another racist attack at Christmas time on an Islamic girls' school in Lancashire, where a man left two pig's heads outside the gates of the school.
Not only is the government not doing anything to stop these hateful, racist attacks, but through war, ‘counter-terror’ legislation, victimisation of Muslims and demonisation of refugees from the Middle East, they are encouraging it.
But last Sunday, in the most fearless and courageous way, Totterdown mosque flung its doors wide open and invited the whole community to tea.
I, along with about 400 others, attended this gathering to show solidarity and respect to Bristol’s Muslim community, widen my knowledge of Islam and stand up against racism and xenophobia.
When I arrived at the event, I was welcomed with warm smiles and handshakes, and offered tea and all kinds of food and treats. We all felt really accepted and appreciated by our hosts at the mosque. I spoke with a few people who told me stories of Muhammad and the history of Islam; it was a real learning experience and I felt inspired by these stories of peace and love.
At the end of the event speeches were made and local Muslims expressed their gratitude and surprise at the level of support. It was a really vibrant and positive coming-together of the community and the hospitality and kindness from those hosting the event was truly admirable.
At the beginning of the week, the people of Totterdown mosque had been scared and shaken up because of the acts of a small minority, who are driven by misunderstanding and division. But the solidarity expressed by the hundreds of locals attending the event demonstrated that while racism is a real threat, there are many more willing to stand up to it.
For me, the day showed how through coming out in solidarity in great numbers and standing strong with all faith groups and social groups subject to such unjust abuse and vilification, we can resist these cowardly and racist attacks; united, together we are stronger.
We need to remember though, that Islamophobia has increased significantly since the War on Terror began in 2001. Since then the government and its allies have waged war on four Muslim countries in fourteen years, using individual acts of terrorism as the rationale for large military campaigns that have devastated societies, and created more terrorism, violence and division than before.
Even though Muslims have only a tiny part in terrorism proportionally and are often the main victims, with the vast majority rejecting it completely, incidents like the Paris attacks and the destructive force Isis (widely seen as a product of the War on Terror) are being used by racists to promote Islamophobia, with attacks rising dramatically in recent months.
Politicians like David Cameron, and the right-wing media, seem to see this all as an opportunity to divide ordinary people; to divert attention from and weaken our opposition to the terrible effects of their austerity policies on the economy and society. Hence Cameron’s recent attacks on Muslim women, his “bunch of migrants” slur on desperate refugees in Calais, and more broadly the Prevent agenda that stigmatises Muslims as suspects within our public institutions.
But we won’t be divided or weakened – that’s what we saw on Sunday in Totterdown. When Muslims in our communities are under attack, they need our support and solidarity and we need to stand firm with them.
Even more, though, in the face of increasing Islamophobic attacks locally and around the country, and the racist opportunism of the Tory government and right-wing media, we also need to unite in the streets in protest, in our thousands, to stand up to racism and Islamophobia, and show support for refugees. We will continue to do this in Bristol, and join the national demonstration on 19 March in London.
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