We condemn the murderous attack on people outside the Muslim Welfare Centre in Finsbury Park, London, on 19 June.
As it is Ramadan, worshippers had just finished their prayers after breaking the daily fast. One man was killed and nine people were taken to hospital.
We do not yet know the details. It seems the killer, Darren Osborne, had no direct links to the far right, but that picture may change. The government and press are calling it an act of terrorism. It is certainly a hate crime; an extreme example of the racism — harassment and violence — suffered by many UK Muslim communities all the time.
Since the Manchester bombing and London Bridge attacks, there has been a sharp rise in attacks on Muslims. Before Osborne drove his van into the crowd, he was heard to shout, “I want to kill all Muslims.” If it turns out Osborne is not part of the organised far right, he must have been influenced by their propaganda. It may be he has similar political thinking to Thomas Mair, who murdered Jo Cox MP exactly one year ago.
Reports say that the local imam stopped those around Osborne from assaulting him. The imam and others were left to detain him for 20 minutes before the police arrived. A witness told The Independent that, “He tried to run away but we brought him down. He would’ve died because so many people were punching him but the imam came out and said ‘No more punching, let’s keep him down until the police come’.
“As he was being arrested he was laughing and smiling and shouting things about Muslims. I don’t want to say what, but it was but it was the sort of thing that made people want to punch him.”
Violence against Muslims is something that the mainstream tabloid press helps to stir up — most insidiously, the idea that all Muslims have a special responsibility to sort out Islamist terrorists. This idea is very divisive. It is like saying all white British people have a special responsibility to sort out Darren Osborne. Of course, all of us, whatever our background, should be concerned about the likes of Osborne and Youssef Zaghba, and do what we can to counter the hateful ideas which incite them.
But the people with a special responsibility are the people with power — politicians, the media and after that, educationalists, community leaders, religious leaders and so on. Right now there is sad inevitability about the hateful reaction against Muslims, mosques and Islamic community centres.
In Manchester a couple of weeks ago, 1,000 members of the EDL were able to gather, hurl racist abuse and attack anti-fascists. A much smaller demonstration in May in Liverpool had been driven out by a successful anti-fascist mobilisation. The left needs to be part of a much stronger mobilisation against the racists.
There have been calls for government help in increasing security around mosques, maybe increased police presence. While such measures may provide short term relief, many Muslims, especially young people experience the police as a source of harassment and suspicion, fears which are compounded by the way the Government’s “Prevent” strategy has been implemented.
People like Osborne, just like the Daesh sympathisers who made their attacks in Westminster and London Bridge, know they can make a horrific and devastating impact with very little resources. Socialists need to discuss how to prepare for this, while we build the politics of social solidarity we need to undermine the hateful ideologies.
One element is physical defence. As we said following the 7 July 2005 bombings in London, “We call on the labour movement to mobilise for physical defence wherever mosques or Muslim neighbourhoods are attacked by racists feeding on the backlash against the bombs.”
That call is still, unfortunately, very relevant.