Between May 2013 and June 2017, 167 mosques in the UK were targeted in anti-Muslim incidents and attacks.
These incidents, reported to and confirmed by Tell MAMA, the national project tackling growing anti-Muslim hate crime which I founded, range from the distribution of anti-Muslim literature in and around mosques to an attempted bombing campaign against three mosques in the West Midlands in 2013. This was carried out by a Ukrainian neo-Nazi, Pavlo Lapshyn, who also murdered an elderly Muslim man just yards from his home.
Taken together, these equate to an average of one incident against a mosque every week. This all takes place against a backdrop of a 23 per cent rise in religious and race-related hate crimes in the 11 months following the Brexit vote, according to figures from police forces released after a Freedom of Information request.
Mosques have been targeted because they are the visible symbol of Islamic institutions in communities, a key focal point where Muslims congregate. Perpetrators also sometimes believe that the impact of their actions can have wider repercussions than just targeting an individual. An attack against a mosque sends a signal to worshippers that they are also being targeted and that the community itself is under threat.
More recently, Tell MAMA highlighted campaigns which had targeted mosques, the most recent being a set of letters that threatened them with explosive devices. Another campaign involved sending white powder, which turned out to be harmless, but presumably was intended to spread fear that it was a deadly substance.
Such hate campaigns have been bubbling in the background, spreading fear and intimidating those working with Islamic institutions. So when we have looked through the cases that have been reported to us – the 167 mosques targeted in four years – the real numbers may well be higher. Some mosques would not have reported incidents and threats to police or to third-party hate crime monitoring agencies such as Tell MAMA.
Travelling the length and breadth of the country with Tell MAMA during 2011-16, I found mosques had often diligently filled out reports of threats and abuse. But they had then often simply left the items in a folder and placed it on a back shelf, there to fester and wait for the next report before the folder was drawn out again.
Muslim communities are currently undergoing a transformational change in how they manage and reduce impacts of anti-Muslim hatred. Citizen journalism and the recording of anti-Muslim hate incidents, as well as the pro-active use of social media, reflect younger Muslims within communities who are confident to challenge hatred where they find it.
Mosques, on the other hand, have governing committees often dominated by first-generation elders (usually men) with relatively few women and even fewer younger people. This means that, in some mosques, the ability to manage risk and mitigate for hate crimes is reduced and the default position is to clean up breakages and graffiti and “carry on as normal”.
I have news for such mosques: anti-Muslim hatred is not going to suddenly just go away. It has been a growth industry, fuelled by social media as right-wing activists and some columnists churn out anti-Islam rhetoric on an almost daily basis. Allied with inevitable hate crime spikes after Islamist terrorist attacks, and this means that every mosque will have to seriously consider, implement and review safety procedures which include risk management beyond the immediate boundary of the mosque, within the bounds of the mosque and, finally, within the mosque building itself.
This does not mean implementing Fort Knox-type security measures, but it does mean landscaping-in security measures which can be covered by clever architecture, plants and the effective use of lighting. In essence, mosques need to think about how they can protect congregants around the bounds of their buildings, and build in measures that can hinder or slow down entry into mosques by people wanting to harm worshippers.
Finally, I envisage that in the next decade, there will be a number of core subjects that become central to the thoughts and lives of Muslims. Security and the safety of congregations will be one, and this will be a similarity that will bind Muslim and Jewish communities together.
At such times, Muslims will find naturally receptive partners in Jewish communities, so long the target of far-right groups, Islamist terror plots and anti-Semites. That is one reason for optimism not pessimism – where out of adversity, stronger bonds between Muslims and Jews will be formed.