Fears are growing that the killing of British soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich will lead to a long-term rise in attacks on Muslims in this country.
Dozens of Islamophobic incidents have already been reported following the killing of Drummer Rigby on Wednesday, including graffiti and vandalism at mosques and a number of Muslims, including children, being abused in the street.
The Tell Mama hotline for reporting such incidents logged 38 cases over Wednesday night, with more reported yesterday.
In response to fears of a prolonged backlash against the Muslim community the Metropolitan police put 1,200 more officers on the street yesterday, stepping up patrols at mosques and religious sites.
Their fears were reinforced by attempts by far-right groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) to exploit the situation. Within hours of Drummer Rigby’s death the EDL had organised a small protest in Woolwich town centre, which ended with its activists pelting police with bottles.
Fiyaz Mughal, from Faith Matters, Tell Mama’s coordinator, said the service usually recorded three or four incidents on an average day, but that the spike after Wednesday’s killing reflected simmering resentment against Muslims. He said that was unlikely to dissipate quickly.
Mr Mughal said: “What we are seeing is concerted action from individuals across the country. We are really concerned. When you see a wider picture of resentment and retribution, this is telling us it’s an increasing problem. Something is moving in a very disturbing direction.”
A 43-year-old man was being questioned yesterday on suspicion of attempted arson and possession of an offensive weapon at a mosque in Braintree, Essex. Brooks Newmark, the local MP, tweeted that the man was carrying “knives and an incendiary device”.
Another man was held on suspicion of racially aggravated criminal damage after police were called to an incident at a mosque in Gillingham, Kent.
Graffiti attacks were reported on mosques in Bolton, where cars parked outside were also vandalised on Wednesday night, and in Cambridge on Thursday.
The incidents compiled by Tell Mama, which monitors news feeds and social media as well as taking calls from the public, included seven incidents of Muslims being abused – including being spat at or threatened in the streets – another five mosques being threatened, and dozens of other online threats.
A number of social networking sites have carried messages calling for Muslim sites to be attacked.
The “True British Patriots” Facebook page carried calls for mosques in Watford in Hertfordshire and Morden, south London, to be burned down.
The incidents came despite Muslim leaders issuing prompt and strongly worded condemnation of the murder. These included the Muslim Council of Britain, the Ramadhan Foundation and the Islamic Society of Britain, as well as individual Muslims, many of whom took to social networks to express their disgust.
Julie Siddiqi, of the Islamic Society of Britain, told Radio 4’s Today programme: “We can’t allow the voices of [the British National party leader] Nick Griffin and the far right to become louder than ours in the coming days. All of the Muslim organisations have come out with the strongest possible terms to say there is absolutely no excuse whatsoever, no justification for anything like this.”
But Mr Mughal warned: “I think the damage has been done.”
He said his own address had been posted on Twitter, with users invited to shoot him. He has contacted mosques and police ahead of Friday prayers warning them that far-right groups may try to confront worshippers.
Mark Rowley, the Met’s assistant commander, revealed that officers were monitoring social media for signs of people trying to exploit the attack to stoke a backlash. He said: “Anybody seeing this as an opportunity to protest, cause mischief, or create tension is unhelpful and unwelcome, and we’d rather it did not happen.”
Dr Matthew Feldman, co-director of the soon to be launched Centre for Fascist, Anti-Fascist and Post-Fascist studies at Teesside University, said extremist Muslims and groups such as the EDL fed off each other and he feared they could engage in tit-for-tat attacks, with each side justifying its existence in terms of the other.
He said: “We need to call out people who use this violence to advance what are clearly prejudicial agendas.”