'Racism, bigotry, hate crime': To do justice by Mohammed Saleem, UK must officially define Islamophobia

'Racism, bigotry, hate crime': To do justice by Mohammed Saleem, UK must officially define Islamophobia
Comment: For Maz Saleem, whose father was killed by a white supremacist, adopting an official, legal definition of Islamophobia would provide the weight necessary to seek justice.
5 min read
07 Apr, 2021
The campaign highlights Islamophobic hate crimes and puts pressure on the government [Twitter]
It is nearing the eighth anniversary of my late father Mohammed Saleem's death. This is not the story of an old man who died naturally after living a full life, his passing was politically motivated and the commemoration of it should be too.

On 29 April 2013, as my father made his way home from the mosque after Ishaa prayer in Birmingham, he was tragically killed by a neo-Nazi terrorist called Pavlo Lapshyn. The very same Nazi then went on a three-month bombing campaign, planting bombs outside three mosques across the West Midlands.

These acts were one of the worst acts of terrorism on UK soil in recent memory. Yet, to this day most people have no idea about the case, in part due to the silence of the mainstream media. Whenever terror related headlines reach our screens, they are often about those who identify with the Muslim faith. Rarely do we hear of the merciless violence of white supremacists who took my father's life.

Mohammed Saleem is sadly not the only victim of Islamophobic attacks. In 2015, 81-year old Muhsin Ahmed was killed by two men in a racially motivated attack as he made his way to a mosque in Rotherham. Two years later, in 2017, Makram Ali was killed in the Finsbury Park terrorist attack during the holy month of Ramadham. His attacker Darren Osborne, who was radicalised by white supremacist ideologies and far-right extremism, murdered him as he drove his van into a group of Muslim worshippers leaving the mosque in north London.

Whenever terror related headlines reach our screens, they are often about those who identify with the Muslim faith. Rarely do we hear of the merciless violence of white supremacists

Islamophobic attacks and racist verbal abuse are becoming more and more normalised. For so many Muslims in the UK, it has become practically an everyday occurrence. We desperately need urgent action to stop the poison of Islamophobia from spreading any further.

An important start would be for an official, legal recognition of Islamophobia to finally be adopted by our government.

The UK government continues to reject the Islamophobia definition put forward by several political parties, one that campaigners have been fighting for. How can we tackle the rise of Islamophobia without a definition of what it is? 

My father's life, like the lives of Muhsin Ahmed and Makram Ali were taken in the name of white supremacy and Islamophobia. This is a fact, it is not a point of discussion, and there must be an official recognition of this specific form of hate crime. Ignoring Islamophobia as a category is disrespectful to every one of these brutal killings of Muslims, it weakens the justice for family members left mourning, and it is an exercise in erasing politically motivated attacks.

It is incredible that to this day, I am still having to campaign for the nature of my father's killing to be described as an act of terrorism by the mainstream media. One outlet responded to a complaint I made by asking me to be more precise, sharing the example of an attacker belonging to Al Qaeda. This just reinforced the double standards and racist undertones of how and when the terminology of 'terrorism' is used.  

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This discomfort I feel every time I hear the term lazily used to describe racialised, Muslim and left-wing people, is one that I am now so accustomed to. It is funny, I was always told the facts speak for themselves. Pavlo Lapshyn, who murdered my father, was charged under section 2 of the Explosive Substances Act 1883 and section 5 (1) of the Terrorism Act 2006. 

For my family, the suffering is made worse with inaccurate descriptions of my father's murder, and each time our complaints are dismissed, it undermines my father's death further.

An official legal adoption of Islamophobia would provide the weight that many of us need to seek justice. It would also force our government to put a name on the Islamophobia that has been spewing for years through rhetoric and laws.

Murderous and violent attacks do not happen in a vacuum. Individuals are emboldened to act on their hate because they are empowered by the endless racism across social media, biased mainstream media reporting, and the anti-Muslim policies pushed through by our government.

Murderous and violent attacks do not happen in a vacuum

The 'I Am Mohammed Saleem' campaign that launched on 1 April across social media with testimonies of racism and xenophobia, seeks to force a definition of Islamophobia back onto the government's agenda.

We must stand up, organise against this dangerous climate of hate, and refuse to accept the dehumanisation of Muslims. We should be collectively proclaiming that we will not be scapegoats. We will not be punching bags. We will not be far-right re-election strategies. We are not an excuse to spy on communities and attack civil liberties.

Until there is an official recognition of our oppression in the most basic way possible - a definition of it, until we win this fight and deliver justice,…we are all Mohammad Saleem.


How you can help: Film and share your story, include the words 'I am Mohammad Saleem'. Remember to tag @IAMMOHDSALEEMUK. For more information: mazcampaigner@gmail.com

Maz Saleem is an educator, campaigner, and the daughter of the late Mohammed Saleem.

Follow the campaign on twitter: @IAMMOHDSALEEMUK and Instagram: @iammohdsaleemuk

Have questions or comments? Email us at: editorial-english@alaraby.co.uk

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.