Answering hate with humanity

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I was pleased and proud when a young Muslim woman who suffered racist abuse from a train thug on the Newcastle Metro was rescued by Geordie fellow-passengers who stepped in to help.

The yob told her to “get off” the train and told other passengers she could be carrying a bomb but he was the one forced to disembark by a furious crowd. Elsewhere an online petition urging people to “answer hate with humanity” has attracted more than 150,000 names while the hashtag #MuslimsAreNotTerrorist has been tweeted hundreds of thousands of times.

But there’s no room for complacency. There were 115 anti-Muslim crimes in Britain in the week after the Paris attack Hate crime against Muslims in London has risen by 65% over the last 12 months and Islamophobic hate crime offences in general have increased from 344 to 570 in the last year, with many attacks targeting women wearing traditional Islamic clothing. According to the helpline, Tell Mama, most victims of the UK hate crimes were Muslim girls and women aged from 14 to 45 in traditional Islamic dress. The perpetrators were mainly white males aged from 15 to 35. They are likely to be a significant underestimate of the total, as many victims are too frightened to contact police or community groups.

The report said a large number of the reported attacks were in public places, including on buses and trains. Thirty-four victims were women wearing the hijab, while eight involved young children. Last week an intelligent, previously tolerant woman told me she was moving to another city because her Lancashire home town was being “taken over” by Moslems. She had nothing against them except “everything has to be their way now”.

In its way, this vague fear of being taken over is as dangerous as racial hatred and we need to understand it if we are to counteract it. All this has reminded me of the day after the London bombings. I was taking part in a phone-in on television and the calls were coming from people who were angry, frightened and desperate for news of relatives who hadn’t come home. And then came a little voice, almost childlike.

“I am Muslim” she said. “Today I took my little boy to school and all the other mums, who I thought were my friends, turned their backs on me. And I wouldn’t hurt anyone.”

I have always thought of her as one more victim of that atrocity. But there is some cause for hope.

Last year I learned of a synagogue in Bradford that had co-opted a Muslim representative to sit on its ruling body, the first time a Muslim had held such a role. Jani Rashid helped raise funds to repair the roof of the Grade II-listed building last year when subscriptions paid by the 45-strong congregation could not cover the cost.

Rudi Leavor, the synagogue’s 87-year-old chairman, said: “We’ve been helped by the Muslim community for a few years and we wanted to cement our relationship further so we asked Jani to join our board.”

Mr Rashid’s association with the synagogue began when he was a young boy in the 1960s — he would walk past on his way to prayers at a nearby mosque.  “I walked in out of curiosity as a child and was welcomed and shown around. I guess that positive experience has influenced me.”

According to the 2011 census, Bradford’s Muslim community, outnumbers the city’s Jews by 129,041 to 299. Years ago one of those Jews welcomed a young Muslim boy into that synagogue and started a train of mutually beneficient events.

Would that that happened more often in every walk of life.

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