A man was set on fire after leaving a mosque in Edgbaston, Birmingham on 20 March. Police said counter-terrorism officers are investigating the attempted murder, and they have arrested one man. This comes after a different incident where somebody set an 82-year-old man on fire outside a mosque in West London in February.
In the latest attack, police believe the suspect sprayed the victim with an unknown substance before setting his jacket on fire. The fire burned his face, and he was taken to hospital with serious but not life-threatening injuries.
BBC News reported that the victim’s nephew, Tayyab Riaz, said everyone was “very upset,” and added:
For 35 years he’s been going to that mosque to pray and there’s never been a problem.
Suddenly this happens. His hair, beard and eyebrows are badly burnt. We’re praying he’s OK.
Meanwhile, Monsur Alam – who lives on the road where the attack happened – said:
I heard screaming and my daughter was screaming as well… My wife ran outside with a bucket of water and a man poured over [the victim].
Sahir Aziz Adam, secretary general of Dudley Road Mosque told Channel 4 News that he spotted a man behaving suspiciously in the mosque:
As I came inside, I spotted the gentleman who was sitting on the side, and I thought he was a worshipper whose actually come to worship. But he was just sitting there, he wasn’t doing nothing… he wasn’t praying and he was sitting in the wrong direction.
Adam greeted the man, who didn’t respond and left the mosque. Adam then called the police. With Ramadan approaching, Adam emphasised:
It’s the beginning of Ramadan, and this makes an effect not just here in this mosque. It makes an effect nationwide. Now the whole of England will be shaking. Wherever they hear about this, they will be frightened now this is what’s happening.
A recently released European Islamophobia Report set out the scale of the problem across Europe. Aristotle Kallis, who wrote the chapter on Islamophobia in the UK, wrote:
Government hate crime statistics for England and Wales recorded a 42% rise in religiously motivated offences against Muslims in 2021-22. Half of the UK’s places of worship for Muslims have experienced some form of vandalism in recent years, while more than a third have been facing this reality every year.
Attacks on Muslim places of worship are a racist intrusion. They are intended to show how unwelcome Muslims are in the fabric of Britain. The very fact that, when reporting on a story about a man being set fire outside a mosque, we had to distinguish from a similar incident earlier in the year says much about Britain’s attitude towards Islamophobia.
The motivations of this particular attacker are not yet clear, but what is clear is that Britain is violently Islamophobic. Whilst it may be tempting to attribute blame for the problem of Islamophobia on a handful of wrong-headed individuals, this would be a mistake. In fact, as Kallis argued:
New research has confirmed that anti-Muslim prejudice – religious and racial/ethnic – has become normalised and that this trend is even more evident among people of higher socioeconomic status – a ‘dinner table prejudice’ indeed.
Too often, those discussing racism will cast racists as uneducated, working class, and uninformed. That’s simply not the case, though. Islamophobia, and racism more broadly, are so normalised that you can’t conceive of Britain without them. However, racism is not an offshoot of ignorance. It’s a choice – a worldview that casts Muslims as inferior and dangerous subjects that don’t belong. Attacks like this one at a mosque in Birmingham are horrific, but commonplace.
Racism transcends class backgrounds. However, it’s worth mentioning that if we want to cast blame, we’d do well to look at elites. Kallis identified the role of the media in enabling the government’s Islamophobia:
The current government and its friendly press are determined to exaggerate the ‘Islamist’ danger while playing down the threat from the far right.
That they also demand government strategy to ‘refocus’ on the former while continuing to concede space to the latter to carry on their divisive local and online activities highlights the enormity of the challenge that lies ahead.
The Shawcross review of Prevent urged the government to focus more on Muslim “extremism,” and to turn away from right-wing extremism. That’s entirely in line with a pattern of behaviour from the government which seeks to minimise far-right elements. They’re determined to continue their persecution of Muslims, and we must be determined to fight back. A core part of that fight back has to be recognising all the levels of Islamophobia that are rotting British society.
Featured image by Felton Davis/Wikimedia Commons via CC 2.0, resized to 770×403
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse