Exclusive: London sees spike in Islamophobic incidents

Wreaths outside London’s Finsbury Park mosque in the wake of a June 2017 attack that left one man dead. A protester highlights the growing concern over hate crimes in the
city. (Getty Images)
Updated 08 January 2019
0

Exclusive: London sees spike in Islamophobic incidents

  • Figures given exclusively to Arab News show a spike in incidents — and police warn the situation on the street is even worse

DUBAI: Dozens of Islamophobic attacks are being recorded in London every week as the city faces a rising wave of hate crime, figures released exclusively to Arab News show.

Police in the UK capital are stepping up measures to halt anti-Muslim attacks, and warn that a “vast number” of incidents is still going unreported.

A total of 1,003 incidents of Islamophobia were reported in London between January and September last year — about 26 a week — compared with 1,662 incidents in 2017 and 1,224 in 2016, the figures show.

In 2011, fewer than 320 incidents were reported.

“Reports of Islamophobic hate crime are continuing to rise in London,” Det. Sgt. Tony Forsyth, of the Metropolitan Police, told Arab News.

The figures were alarming, but failed to reflect the true gravity of the situation across the city since many victims neglected to report racially motivated crimes, he said. “We know that nationally a vast number of hate crimes are still not reported to police. We would urge victims or witness to a hate crime to come forward.”

Islamophobia accounts for roughly a 10th of all racist and religious hate crimes. More than 12,350 hate crimes were reported in London in the eight months to September this year, compared with 16,995 in 2017.

Forsyth said the rise in the number of incidents could be due partly to victims having more confidence in reporting crimes.

However, he said that a string of terror attacks in wider Europe and across the UK, including the suicide bombing that killed 22 people following a concert by pop star Ariana Grande in Manchester in May 2017, followed by the London Bridge knife rampage that left eight dead — were also to blame.

In 2005, in the aftermath of the July 7 London terror attacks, the number of Islamophobic incidents increased dramatically, with 44 incidents reported in the three months before the attacks compared with 365 in the following three months.

However, Forsyth said the police force and its 30,000 officers were taking extra measures to reduce the number of Islamophobic and racially motivated hate crime across the capital, and give victims the further confidence to report attacks in their neighborhoods and communities.

“Where more people are reporting hate crimes, it helps us identify where and when the crime is taking place and who the repeat offenders are,” he said. 

In London, the most commonly recorded hate crime in relation to “faith hate matters” is violence against a person, which can range from common assault to more serious attacks, said Forsyth.

Public order offenses and criminal damage, such as vandals daubing a mosque with graffiti, are also among racially motivated crimes reported to police.

“In terms of the language used by perpetrators, we have found that offenders can be influenced by media stories and material found online,” said Forsyth. “In a number of crimes reported, there is evidence of a clear lack of knowledge on the part of the perpetrator around faith matters and teachings.”

Police define an Islamophobic incident as one that “is perceived by the victim or any other person to be due to a person’s religion
(of Islam).” 

“Islamophobic incidents have a significant and wide-ranging impact on Muslim communities in London,” said Forsyth. “We work alongside our counter-terrorism colleagues to ensure that where there may be extremist or far-right perpetrators driven by hate-fueled ideologies, these individuals are identified quickly.”

Police have developed close links with third-party reporting groups, such as TruVision, Tell MAMA, Galop and CST, in order to gain a fuller understanding of hate crime and the extent of under-reporting.

A widely publicized example of the rise of Islamophobia was “Punish a Muslim Day,” when letters were sent encouraging recipients to carry out violent acts against Muslims in a malicious advert circulated in London and other UK cities.

Forsyth said police and the UK’s North-East Counter-Terrorism Unit investigated the incident and worked with local community and faith organizations across London to reassure communities in the wake of the adverts.

Given the rise in figures, Forsyth said police were ramping up efforts to stem the growing tide of Islamophobia across the UK capital.

The Met Online Hate Crime Hub, for example, is a cadre of officers who investigate online hate cases with key partners, including social media providers, victim support organizations, academic experts, and online and social media data analysts. 

The MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) project, also known as Tell MAMA, is an NGO that monitors anti-Muslim activity in the UK and acts as an independent third-party reporting service for those who have experienced Islamophobic abuse, discrimination or violence.

In its 2017 annual report, the organization said that it had received 1,201 verified accounts of anti-Muslim hatred, with 3,005 incidents reported in the past three years.

Professor Peter Hopkins, of Newcastle University, who contributed to the report, said it “clearly demonstrates the need for action to tackle anti-Muslim hatred in the UK.”

The report found that 70 percent of incidents last year took place offline and just over half of those involved cases of abusive behavior, with physical attacks accounting for nearly 20 percent.

“It is concerning that in 2017 there was a 56 percent increase in incidents involving discrimination and an 88 percent increase in vandalism,” Hopkins said.

Most incidents of anti-Muslim hatred took place in public areas and transport networks. However, in 2017, 12 percent of hate crimes took place in or near private property or households — a 26 percent increase year-on-year. The report found that most victims of anti-Muslim hatred were women and most of the perpetrators were male.

According to Tell Mama’s latest report, the most widely reported anti-Muslim hate incident was abusive behavior, followed by physical attacks. 

The group also saw a temporary spike in online reports in March and April 2018, following the “Punish A Muslim Day” campaign.

Iman Atta, director of Tell MAMA, said that Muslim women were most at risk of Islamophobic attacks. “Every year since 2012, most victims of street-based hate crimes have been women,” she said.

“Of equal concern are the rising levels of aggression being shown to victims at street level. This possibly indicates that something is changing for the worst.”

Shahid Malik, chair of the organization, said that the rise in anti-Muslim hate “affects lives, families, communities and, ultimately, the safety of our entire country.

“(Hate crime) divides communities and leads some toward extremist groups if they feel that they have no access to justice.”


Father of boy killed in school massacre wins defamation suit

In this Dec. 14, 2012 file photo, Alissa Parker grieves with her husband, Robbie, as they leave a staging area after receiving word that their daughter, Emilie, was one of the 20 children killed in the Sandy Hook School shooting in Newtown, Conn. (AP)
Updated 19 June 2019
0

Father of boy killed in school massacre wins defamation suit

  • Victims’ families scored another victory Tuesday when a Connecticut judge imposed sanctions on Jones for an outburst on his web show against one of the families’ lawyers

HARTFORD, Connecticut: The father of a victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre has won a defamation lawsuit against the authors of a book that claimed the shooting never happened — the latest victory for victims’ relatives who have been taking a more aggressive stance against conspiracy theorists.
The book, “Nobody Died at Sandy Hook,” has also been pulled from shelves to settle claims against its publisher filed by Lenny Pozner, whose 6-year-old son Noah was killed in the shooting.
“My face-to-face interactions with Mr. Pozner have led me to believe that Mr. Pozner is telling the truth about the death of his son,” Dave Gahary, the principal officer at publisher Moon Rock Books, said Monday. “I extend my most heartfelt and sincere apology to the Pozner family.”
A Wisconsin judge issued a summary judgment Monday against authors James Fetzer and Mike Palacek, a ruling that was separate from the settlement between Pozner and the book’s publisher. A trial to decide damages has been set for October.
Pozner has been pushing back for years against hoaxers who have harassed him, subjected him to death threats and claimed that he was an actor and his son never existed. He has spent years getting Facebook and others to remove conspiracy videos and set up a website to debunk conspiracy theories.
Lately, the fight has been joined by others who lost relatives in the Dec. 14, 2012, school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. After quietly enduring harassment and ridiculous assertions for years, some have changed their approach, deciding the only way to stop it is to confront it. Their efforts have turned the tables on the hoaxers, including Alex Jones , host of the conspiracy-driven Infowars website.
Victims’ families scored another victory Tuesday when a Connecticut judge imposed sanctions on Jones for an outburst on his web show against one of the families’ lawyers.
Judge Barbara Bellis on Tuesday ordered the Infowars host to pay some of the relatives’ legal fees and prohibited him from filing motions to dismiss their defamation lawsuit against him.
The families of several of the 20 children and six educators killed in the 2012 shooting are suing Jones, Infowars and others for promoting the hoax theory.
Jones made angry comments on his show Friday about a lawyer for the families, accusing him of trying to frame him by planting child pornography in documents Jones’ attorneys submitted to the families’ lawyers.
Robbie Parker, whose 6-year-old daughter Emilie was among those killed at Sandy Hook, spent years ignoring people who called him a crisis actor. His family moved to the West Coast, but still the harassment didn’t stop. He would get letters from people who found his address. He was once stopped in a parking garage by a man who berated him and said the shooting never happened.
“You are taught when you are young that you ignore bullies and eventually they will leave you alone,” Parker said. “But as time went on, and my other girls were getting older, I realized they weren’t stopping and some of this was getting worse and getting more personal.”
Parker is now part of a lawsuit against Jones, has testified before Congress and pushed for changes on social media platforms, such as YouTube, which announced this month it will prohibit videos that deny the Sandy Hook shooting and other “well-documented events.”
“It wasn’t until the lawsuits and until it became a mainstream news story that people realized they were being complicit in this and started to moderate the content,” Parker said.
Pozner is the lead plaintiff in several of at least nine cases filed against Sandy Hook deniers in federal and state courts in Connecticut, Florida, Texas and Wisconsin.
In the case against Jones, the families of eight victims and a first responder say they’ve been subjected to harassment and death threats from his followers. A Connecticut judge ruled in the defamation case that Jones must undergo a sworn deposition, which is scheduled for July in Texas.
On Monday lawyers for the families disclosed that child pornography was found in electronic files sent to them by Jones as part of the discovery process. An attorney for Jones said the pornography was in emails sent to his client that were never opened.
Wisconsin’s Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington ruled Monday that Pozner had been defamed by Fetzer and Palacek, whose book claimed, among other things, that Noah’s death certificate had been faked, according to Pozner’s lawyer, Jake Zimmerman.
“If Mr. Fetzer wants to believe that Sandy Hook never happened and that we are all crisis actors, even that my son never existed, he has the right to be wrong. But he doesn’t have the right to broadcast those beliefs if they defame me or harass me,” Pozner said. “He doesn’t have the right to use my baby’s image or our name as a marketing ploy to raise donations or sell his products. He doesn’t have the right to convince others to hunt my family.”
Before the case went to a judge, Fetzer had said “evidence clearly shows this wasn’t a massacre, it was a FEMA drill,” referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“If you believe otherwise, then you are being played,” Fetzer, a Wisconsin resident, said at the time.
A redacted copy of the actual death certificate is attached to Pozner’s lawsuit. Additionally, Pozner has had DNA samples taken and compared with those provided by the Connecticut medical examiner to prove that Noah was his son. He has put Noah’s birth certificate, report cards and medical records into the public file in his legal actions.
His goal, he says, is to make sure that “normal people” have access to the truth and aren’t persuaded by the hoaxers.
A Florida woman, Lucy Richards, was sentenced to five months in prison for sending Pozner death threats. She was also banned from visiting web sites run by conspiracy theorists, including Fetzer.
Christopher Mattei, a lawyer who represents the families in their Connecticut lawsuit against Jones, said his clients want to live their lives free from that kind of harassment. They also want these hoaxers to know they are affecting real people, who have already been emotionally devastated.
“When the grief process includes having to justify your grief or having to prove your child’s existence,” he said, “it makes it very difficult.”