Mosque hate letters reinforces need for mosque security
Friday January 22 2021
During November, several mosques in the UK received hateful Islamophobic letters following a string of attacks in France including the attack outside the former Charlie Hebdo offices which wounded two people, the beheading of a schoolteacher who showed Charlie Hebdo’s caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed in his classes, and a stabbing in a church in Nice which left three people dead and several others wounded. Given the current climate of heightened Islamophobic sentiment and rising hate crime, it is essential that strategies are developed and security funding is provided to mosques in order to safeguard them.
The letters (which included vitriolic sentiment against “religious people” and a graphic and obscene Islamophobic cartoon of a turbaned man attacking the Earth) highlight
s the vulnerability of mosques as targets of Islamophobic abuse and the urgent need to effectively protect them from the risks that they face.
However, for the development of a comprehensive security plan, identifying the risks, the scale of the threats, and the specific vulnerability of mosques to hate crime is integral. From large scale attacks to lower level and regular hate crimes, mosques are unique and regular targets of Islamophobic abuse with some of the most recent cases in the UK including:
- January – May 2019: An Islamic school in Newcastle suffered a series of racist “vandalism”. In the first attack in January, swastikas and the words “moslem terorists” [sic] were scrawled on the walls of the school. Then, in March, copies of the Qu’ran were ripped up and windows were smashed. In May the school received a series of malicious Islamophobic letters containing images of Jimmy Savile with a caption calling the Prophet Muhammad a “paedo”. These repeated attacks lead to fears of a potential arson attack. As expressed by the school’s principal, Muhammad Abdulmuheet: “Our biggest fear now is someone will burn down the building.”
- April 2019: Stephen Bishop was jailed for plotting to bomb Baitul Futuh Mosque in London, as “revenge” for the Manchester Arena attack.
- January 2020: Islamophobic slogans were spray-painted near North Brixton Islamic Cultural Centre.
- June 2020: Three mosques in Stockton experienced “a spate of racist attacks”, including having the word “KKK” graffitied across the walls
Between 2017-2020, 27 mosques reported an Islamophobic offence to MEND’s Islamophobia Response Unit (IRU). As but a handful of case studies from the last two years:
- February 2019: Threatening comments were made over Facebook against a mosque in Lincoln in response to the local Visit My Mosque campaign. Threats included “am coming with C130gunship smash down ok”.
- May 2019: Two men were injured in a hit and run outside of Masjid At-Taqwa in Leicester.
- July 2019: Badges displaying St George’s flag (a famous crusader symbol commonly used by the far-right) were strewn across the car park of Khizra Masjid, seemingly in an attempt to intimidate worshippers.
- March 2020: A man entered Faizan- E-Medina mosque in Derby. The suspect began shouting abuse to the Muslim worshipers, including waving a Bible and arguing that Muslims were insulting Christians. On leaving the mosque, he drove into two cars of worshippers.
- April 2020: The private ambulance owned by Masjid-E-Umer was vandalised with graffiti.
Mosques play a symbolic role as visible identifiers of the Islamic faith to which fears of “Islamification” and the otherness of Muslimness are ascribed. The letters sent to mosques in December exemplify the way in which mosques become prime targets of Islamophobic sentiment that culminate in hate crime and the prevalence of reprisals against Muslim communities following periods of socio-political tension or violent events. Particularly considering documented trends of mosques subject to retributory abuse, it is vital that mosques are supported in implementingprecautionary measures to safeguard themselves and their congregations.
One of the greatest obstacles to protecting mosques and Islamic institutions remains the lack of funding provided to ensure their security. While the Government rightfully provides funds of £14 million per year for synagogues and Jewish schools, there remains no regular funding for mosques. The last ‘Places of Worship Security Fund’ launched in 2016 provided only £2.4 million to be distributed across mosques, churches, temples, gurdwaras, and other institutions. The government has recently pledged £1.6 million funding to mosques for security, however, this must be accompanied by a comprehensive risk analysis in order to develop effective strategies and devise funding plans that are proportionate to the threats that mosques face.
Comparatively, in April 2020, the Prime Minister commendably increased security funding for Jewish institutions in light of a rise in anti-Semitic attacks, committing £14million to support the security of over 400 synagogues and 150 Jewish schools (equivalent to almost £25.5k per institution). Meanwhile, the £1.6million pledged to support 1825 mosques amounts to a mere £877 per institution. As such, financial strategies must be accompanied by a comprehensive risk analysis in order to develop effective strategies and devise funding plans that are proportionate to the threats that mosques face.
Meanwhile, considering the threats facing Muslim institutions, it is important to examine current policies and procedures intended to protect them. As with the development of any social policy, the first step in addressing a problem is understanding it in terms of scale, origin, and consequences. Accurate data is central to that aim. However, there appears to be a disparity in how hate crimes against religious institutions are recorded between different police constabularies across the country. In response to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests submitted by MEND which asked about hate crimes that targeted “mosques” and those that targeted “religious institutions”, a number of police forces responded that they do not record the data in a retrievable format. Other police forces responded that whilst they do record data for attacks targeting “religious institutions” they were unable to provide specific data in terms of breakdown for the particular religious institutions (i.e. mosques, synagogues, gurdwaras).
However, the data that could be retrieved shows that between 2013-2015 there were at least 138 attacks against mosques, and at least 200 reported attacks in 2016-2018. However, considering the disparity in how forces are recording this data, the actual number of attacks targeting mosques is likely to be many times the figures mentioned above, suggesting that statistics still remain largely unreflective of the scale of the problem. The lack of systematised recording accentuates this, obscuring the realities of Islamophobia and hindering development of strategies to adequately address them.
Without uniform recording and classification of hate crimes, it is very difficult to perform an accurate risk analysis that could be used to formulate funding strategies and protective policies to safeguard Islamic institutions. It is, therefore, essential that strategies are introduced to promote the accurate and standardised recording of hate crimes against religious institutions across all police constabularies. MEND therefore urges for a standardised recording of hate crimes against religious institutions across all police constabularies in order to formulate effective risk analysis and funding strategies. MEND also urges the Government to urgently outline a strategy to finance mosque security in a manner that is proportional to the risk that mosques face.