Finsbury Park Attack: The Rhetoric & Approach to Far-Right Extremism Must Change

Dr Q & I

Two weeks after the London Attack my doctor asked me a question, a non medical, off the record question:

“As a young, bearded, South Asian man, do you find people look at you more after an attack?”

My doctor is a mid-30s white middle class man. While we share the delights of having ginger beards, liberal ideology and North London football rivalries, our experiences navigating London could not be more different. The question caught me off guard but I understood it as being from a place of empathy.

My answer was two-fold but simple:

  1. Yes I do notice more accusatory, inquisitive, investigatory looks, but being of South Asian heritage does not make me immune from the feelings of edginess most civilians feel after such an attack, so I accept it, smile back and get on with my commute.
  2. From a young age I have been wary and vigilant of Caucasian men and women, in expectation of racial abuse or attacks so I have always looked at them in anticipation for any abuse.

From here the conversation devolved into Dr Q stating people do not feel the “Muslim community do enough”. To which I quickly refuted with the fact that both recent attacks in Manchester and London had key members that were reported to the authorities by the Muslim community on more than one occasion. Secondly, a community cannot be held hostage or responsible for the actions of few extremists.

In the wake of the Finsbury Park Attack I wonder if Dr Q will ask me a different question:

“As a young, bearded, South Asian man how has Islamophobia affected your life and the looks you get?”

He will get a densely different answer.

We will not know whether the question is asked or not until a future appointment. But the point here is about rhetoric, narrative and wider discourse. The liberal North London Dr freely questions the “role of the Muslim community”, while missing the other side of the coin; that of the role of the State, media and far-right preachers in setting an Islamaphobic narrative that pitches “Whites” against “Muslims”. This is a one-eyed vision of Terrorism and extremism that willingly gives the space for the Finsbury Park Attack to occur.


The Finsbury Park Attack

Sadly an attack of this scale was both foreseeable and avoidable. Between May 2013 and September 2016 there have been 100 recorded attacks on Mosques, with 12 days being the average time between the attacks. There were 120 reported Islamophobic attacks the week after the London Bridge Attack and have been 625 reported attacks in the last 6 months.

In the last week of Ramadaan, as Taraweeh prayers had finished a white van drove through Muslim worshipers leaving the Muslim Welfare House. The attack appears planned, a “copycat” attack. 1 dead, 10 injured. After hitting 3 people, the attacker, 47 year old Darren Osborne, reversed so he could run over 6 more. This was a terrorist attack, perpetrated by a Neo-Nazi terrorist. The White Neo-Nazi must be regarded a terrorist as much as the Islamic extremist. Both incite terror and both commit murder, only ideology separates them. There is no difference between “I want to kill all Muslims” and “I want to kill all khaffirs” both will kill unknowing, unarmed civilians in the name of their ideological barbarities.


Islamophobia: Extremist Ideology

Islamophobia must be taken seriously and confronted as an extremist ideology. Equally those groups and well-known preachers of Islamophobia must be muted and prohibited from inciting racial terror as strongly as Abu Hamza and Anjem Choudhury have been. The role of far-right hate-preachers in inciting acts of terrorism must be acknowledged. Brazenly racist groups such as the EDL, Britain First, the BNP and the racists of UKIP must be banned or treated with the same whip as other terrorist organisations. It would be unwise to rule out further attacks like the one in Finsbury Park while racist and Islamophobic centres of hate continue to operate unshackled.

In recent weeks, a macho Paul Golding (leader of Britain First) has been filmed outside West London mosques inciting hate and unsuccessfully attempting to stir up cross-community tensions. The disgusting irony is Golding hurled abuse such as “where were you when Manchester happened?” while Muslims prepared relief boxes for victims of the Grenfell Tower fire in their local Mosque come emergency action centre. Golding chose to forget the community response to the Manchester and London attacks, which were immense shows of solidarity with all members of the community pulling together. Further, it would be helpful to question, where was Paul Golding when Manchester happened? Where was his contribution? Golding’s divisive bile will not be enough to split communities but it will be enough to inspire more attacks like Finsbury Park, he must be muted.

Tommy Robinson, rebirthed again since his last birth as a centre-right moderate, has been on constant Twitter tirade stating Muslims want to “destroy you, destroy our way of life”. Robinson should take note of the reaction of Imam Mohammed Mahmoud, who protected the Finsbury Park attacker from a crowd of understandably incensed and upset people until police arrived: “We managed to surround him and protect him from any harm.” This was not an act of a destroyer. Protection for a man who had a few minutes earlier used his vehicle as a tank to mow down and kill members of his congregation and community. This was an act of saintly peacefulness.

Katie Hopkins, while dropped from LBC is still an employed journalist of the Daily Mail and has infamously called for a “final solution”. The ability for right-wing extremists to create large public followings via social media and the willingness of the media to allow Hopkins ilk platforms to preach has radicalised many. Twitter can become a chaotic sea of racist dogma if you stumble upon the wrong thread.

Britain First and the EDL have held marches in Liverpool and Manchester over the last two weekends. In Liverpool, Unite Against Fascism and other progressive outnumbered the far-right, however Manchester saw fascists in huge numbers for one of the first times since Oswald Mosley’s march on Cable Street 1936. The far-right outnumbered the progressives and forced many people, including local Sikh charity workers, to stop from their normal activities.

In failing to declare the acts of Neo-Nazis as acts of terror we have tolerated and allowed them a separate undefined category, a category which is not terror nor criminal, a grey area of civil disobedience. This has led to the subconscious acceptance of ‘reciprocation’ attacks or acts of violence fueled by Islamophobia. It is time for a change of narrative. Since 9/11 anyone slightly past olive toned skin has been pushed into the firing line by the media, the far-right and centrist politicians. From “Paki” to “Muslim”. This second wave racism has become a norm which has rooted in our society. The overt and brash racism suffered by first and second generation immigrants striving to survive and adapt to British society has been transformed into a covert yet ever vicious second wave. Our streets have become a battleground, with innocent civilians forever paying the price. “Muslims” find themselves subject to abuse, physical attack and death. We have allowed a war between Islamic Extremists and Islamophobic Neo-Nazis. But only the Islamic Extremists have been combated. In doing so we have picked sides with the Far-right Islamophobes.


Change of Rhetoric & Case for Justice

The Apprentice PM Theresa May has taken a leaf out of Jeremy Corbyn’s book of progression. May having learnt from her woefully robotic election campaign and slow-motion reaction to the Grenfell Fire was quick to condemn the attack on the steps of Number 10. There was temporary comfort in hearing the Apprentice PM finally put a foot right in announcing the attack to have been of terrorist nature.

May stated, the Finsbury Park Attack to be:

another terrorist attack on the streets of our city

which was “every bit as sickening as those that have come before”.

While long overdue this line of language must continue if we are to rid our society of these acts.

May’s speech marked a major change in rhetoric from the Prime Minister’s office. Firstly, May pinpointed the need to stamp out extremism on the Internet. May’s isolation of the Internet as a cause of extremism ideally points to the Golding-Robinson-Hopkins Twittersphere. Further, May stated there to have been “far too much tolerance of extremism, that means extremism of any kind, including Islamophobia”. This is in no doubt. However, it remains to be seen what action will be taken on stamping out Islamophobia, cleaning the internet of the three hate-inciting musketeers would be a start.

May also announced there would be an establishment of a “Commission for Countering Extremism” in doing so the PM paralleled the fight against extremism with the fight against racism. Ideally this reads as an acceptance that Islamophobia has manifested into an extreme brand of racism. In which case, the establishment of commission to counter extremism may be another step in the right direction, granted the parameters, mission and powers of the commission are broad enough to effect change.

This new perspective on the fight against far-right extremism is in stark contrast to May’s speech in the aftermath of the London Bridge Attack which implied a necessity to encroach upon civil liberties in order to fight Islamic extremism. However, the mere acknowledgement of Islamophobia as a condemnable extremist ideology is a landmark step in the right direction.

Jeremy Corbyn who is the MP for Islington North was also quick to the scene of the “horrific and cruel attack” and attended prayers at the Finsbury Park Mosque along with Emily Thornberry and David Lammy. Further, the North London site of the attack was visited by PM Theresa May, Sajid Javed and London Mayor Sadiq Khan who pledged that there would be a heightened police and security presence around Mosques.

With the Finsbury Park attacker being arrested, there will be a court date set and a sentence beckoning. Darren Osborne’s trial will stand as a landmark case for how the British judiciary combats Islamophobic terrorism. The case holds a huge opportunity for a change of narrative.

The Muslim community at large is not only integrated but active in caring and bringing wider communities together. Muslims are a core and important part of our vibrant and united multicultural society and we must not allow them to fall victim to Neo-Nazi terrorism so easily. The change in rhetoric must lead to an end of victimisation and terror mongering from the mainstream media, while the State must take immediate action to combat Islamophobia and suppress notorious preachers of hate.

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