Following the horrific and brutal murder of British solider Lee Rigby in the Woolwich district of London, on Thursday, attacks on Muslims in Britain have spiked in a racist and misguided outpouring of outrage. The Tell Mama hotline, which is a service for measuring and monitoring anti-Muslim attacks, reported "38 incidents over Wednesday night, including attacks on three mosques" as well as more on Thursday. According to co-ordinator of the hotline, Fiyaz Mughal, only three to four incidents are normally reported each day. The attacks, said Fiyaz, represent "concerted action from individuals across the country" as part of a "wider picture of resentment and retribution" directed against Muslims.
This rise in Islamophobic outrage is not surprising, however, given the way in which the killing of Rigby has been reported, and how Muslims in general are often portrayed, in much of the media. It seems ridiculous to have to say this, but Islam is not a uniquely violent religion, not all Muslims are potential terrorists, and all Muslims do not bear responsibility for the violent actions of the two men in Woolwich.
Hours after the attack, members of the far-right English Defence League (EDL) engaged in running battles with the police, chanting Islamophobic slogans. EDL leader Tommy Robinson said:
"They're chopping our soldiers' heads off. This is Islam...Our next generation are being taught through schools that Islam is a religion of peace. It's not. It never has been. What you saw today is Islam. Everyone's had enough. There has to be a reaction, for the government to listen, for the police to listen, to understand how angry this British public are."
Following the attack on Rigby, the media and politicians quickly labelled it an act of terrorism, which is highly problematic given that the way that terrorism is discussed. As Glenn Greenwald points out, the label of terrorism is almost exclusively reserved for "violence is perpetrated by Muslims against the West ... but not the other way around." Islamophobic attitudes like those of the EDL are only fed by the way Islam and incidents such as the attack in Woolwich are portrayed in the media. However, as George Eaton of the New Statesman argues, Muslims "bear no more responsibility for jihadism than Christians do for the Ku Klux Klan or the Westboro Baptist Church (or, more pertinently, than the English do for the EDL)."
Along with reports of Islamophobic graffiti, vandalism outside mosques, and Muslims in the street being threatened and abused, police arrested two men for separate attacks on mosques. A mosque in Milton Keynes was attacked with a petrol bomb, although fortunately eyewitnesses were able to put out the fire before it took hold. Police arrested a 43-year-old man on suspicion of attempted arson in Braintree, Essex, after reportedly walking into a mosque with a knife. Secretary of the mosque, Sikander Saleemy, said:
"We absolutely condemn what happened in Woolwich, but it had nothing to do with us. It was an appalling act of terror – but it wasn't Islamic in any way. I wish it wasn't described like that, because sadly people will now start to blame Muslims."
There were also calls on the "True British Patriots" Facebook page, for mosques in Watford in Hertfordshire and Morden, south London, to be burned down.
While Islamic groups have been quick to condemn the attack in Woolwich, the fact that they feel the need to do so least they be accused of being sympathetic to, or even supportive of, what happened, is indicative of the way that Muslims are often portrayed and treated. Although it was those with more extreme view of Muslims, such as the EDL, who are responsible for the actual spike in Islamophobic attacks, the misguided and racist portrayal of Muslims off which they feed is far more mainstream. As Eaton argues, "we will have truly progressed as a society when Muslims no longer feel the need to distance themselves from the acts of terror performed by their supposed co-religionists."