As part of ongoing research on racial violence in the UK, the IRR has documented 21 attacks on Islamic institutions reported by the media in 2011: at least one incident, on average, every ten days.
These attacks exclude confrontations where people have been physically assaulted, except where they took place alongside acts of vandalism. Incidents such as members of the EDL setting upon two Muslim brothers near an Islamic centre in Dagenham last month, or an attack on a 71-year-old Asian man outside a mosque in Kilmarnock two weeks ago which left him with serious facial injuries, have been recorded separately. Moreover, given that the vast majority of attacks are not covered by the media, those recorded here are likely to show only a tiny snapshot of the actual number of incidents. But even then, there is evidence of a routine pattern of vandalism, intimidation and criminal damage.
Some of these incidents could have been deadly. An Imam in Accrington, for example, was lucky to escape unharmed earlier this month when the mosque he was sleeping in began to burn. In a suspected arson attack, flames had spread from a nearby building containing gas cylinders and according to a fire safety officer, had they penetrated the kitchen of the mosque ‘we could have been looking at a fire fatality’.
Several attacks appear to have been carried out by members of the far-right English Defence League (EDL) or people claiming affiliation with the organisation. EDL graffiti have been found on numerous occasions and, in other incidents, people taking part in the organisation’s demonstrations attempted to vandalise mosques.
The most serious incidents that have taken place this year have been arson attacks. Two buildings earmarked to be converted into a mosque and a Muslim-run community centre were completely destroyed after being set on fire; and another mosque in Sussex only escaped serious damage because firefighters promptly arrived at the scene. In May the EDL posted a link to a list of mosques in the UK on its Facebook page. A number of members subsequently wrote messages expressing a wish to destroy them, including ‘burn them all’ and ‘burn them all down’. However, none of the arson attacks that have taken place have been attributed by the police conclusively to any particular organisation.
Other attacks which have taken place include sending suspicious packages initially thought to be anthrax, throwing pig’s heads at mosques and firebomb threats.
Recorded attacks, attempted attacks or threats on mosques and Islamic centres in 2011
- 22 July 2011: Windows of the Madinah mosque in Luton were smashed and the letters ‘EDL’ were painted on the walls, as well as a swastika. (Socialist Worker, 23 July 2011)
- 13 July 2011: Four separate fires spread around the Faizane Madina mosque in Accrington in what was a suspected arson attack. As a result of the fire, a mains gas pipe leading to the mosque ruptured and nearby residents had to be evacuated. Firefighters said that a visiting Imam, asleep in the mosque at the time of the incident, was lucky to survive. (Lancashire Telegraph, 21 July 2011)
- 9 July 2011: Members of the EDL were prevented from attacking a mosque in Cambridge following a march through the city. Far-right activists went on to attack Muslims running a community stall and threw copies of the Qu’ran at them. (Cambridge News, 9 July 2011)
- 6 July 2011: A pig’s head was thrown at a mosque in Southport. Representatives from the mosque said that it was an isolated incident and nothing similar had happened before. (Southport Visitor, 21 July 2011)
- 23 June 2011: A pig’s head was placed on a pole outside a possible site for a mosque in Nottingham. The words ‘no mosque here, EDL Notts’ were written on the pavement next to the pole. After being sentenced, one of the men involved in the attack said that he had since left the EDL. (BBC News, 21 July 2011)
- June 2011: Packages of suspicious white powder and, in some cases, offensive letters and images were posted to six mosques throughout the UK. Although there were suspicions that the packages may have contained anthrax, they were found to be harmless. However, some people who had been in contact with the powder had to be quarantined and tested for contamination. (London Evening Standard, 17 June 2011)
- 28 May 2011: Windows of a mosque being built in Redditch, Worcestershire were smashed. A representative of the mosque stated that it would open on schedule despite the vandalism. (BBC News, 31 May 2011)
- 14 May 2011: EDL supporters held a demonstration in Hull and then gathered outside a mosque in the city. The mosque had already been attacked earlier in the week and some of its windows had been smashed. (Unite Against Fascism, 15 May 2011)
- 27 April 2011: A member of the BNP was arrested on suspicion of racially aggravated public disorder during a demonstration against proposals to convert a building into a mosque in Milton Keynes. The building had been vandalised prior to the protest on several occasions and, at one point, a pig’s head was thrown on the roof. (Milton Keynes News, 27 April 2011)
- 16 April 2011: A mosque in Chorley was broken into and racist graffiti sprayed on the walls inside. Various items inside the mosque were damaged and a copy of the Qu’ran was desecrated. (Chorley Citizen, 25 May 2011)
- 24 March 2011: Worshippers in the Redbridge Islamic Centre were attacked by a group of men shouting racist abuse and the Imam of the mosque was injured. The attackers threw bricks at the building and smashed through the front doors. (East London and West Essex Guardian, 25 March 2011)
- 7 March 2011: An unused church in Ipswich, which was going to be converted into a Muslim-run community centre, was destroyed in a blaze which firefighters said they were ’99 per cent certain’ was an arson attack. The owner of the building explained that he had planned to open the centre for all members of the local community. He had no insurance however, and as a result 25 years of fundraising ‘went up in flames’. (Ipswich Evening Star, 9 March 2011)
- 5 March 2011: A man was convicted of aggravated criminal damage after he wrote the letters ‘EDL’ and drew a religious cross on the wall of a mosque in north London. This was the second time he had daubed the mosque with offensive graffiti. (Camden Journal, 28 April 2011)
- 16 February 2011: An Islamic school in Birmingham was closed after staff received phone calls threatening to firebomb the building. The threats followed a documentary using undercover filming of teachers and members of staff for some years without their knowledge. (Birmingham Post, 16 February 2011)
- 13 February 2011: A mosque in Sussex which had recently reopened after being renovated was set on fire in an arson attack. Firefighters were able to douse the flames before they caused significant damage. (BBC News, 14 February 2011)
- 4 February 2011: Over 100 residents had to be evacuated when a nearby building, earmarked to be converted into an Islamic centre, was destroyed in a suspected arson attack in North Wales. Far-right groups had actively campaigned against the plans for the building, with a recent EDL march attracting more than 100 people. (Flintshire Chronicle, 10 February 2011)
Read the IRR’s evidence to the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights on anti-Muslim hate crime here
Read the IRR’s research Racial violence: the buried issue, here
Read an IRR News story: ‘Racial violence laid bare’
Read the IRR’s research The new geographies of racism: Plymouth, here