By Owen Jones
When a Muslim optician told me of the hate crime committed against her, it was her flippancy that shocked me most. She was driving to work when a man parked his van in front of her. When she objected, he yelled: “You’re a fucking Muslim – leave the country.” But her tone was one of casual resignation: it was just one of those things, an unfortunate occurrence to be met with a weary shrug. She didn’t respond, because she felt she would simply reinforce a narrative of being “an aggressive Muslim”. It didn’t end there. Later, at work, a couple had to be persuaded to let her see to them – again, because she was a Muslim.
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The first of these incidents was not reported to the authorities. We do know that 115 anti-Muslim attacks were reported in the seven days after the Paris atrocity – a threefold increase. As with the optician, the victims tended to be women, singled out because they were wearing hijabs. In Fife, a man and a woman were violently assaulted by more than a dozen people outside their takeaway shop, their assailants berating them over the Paris atrocities. In a more heartening incident, passengers turned on a bigot yelling abuse at a 23-year-old Muslim woman on a train in Newcastle.
These are not just terrible examples of bigotry, of hatred directed at people having the audacity to get on with their lives. Those responsible are not just bigots, but recruiting sergeants for Islamic State. When Isis executes its attacks, it has a script. It knows that Muslims will be blamed en masse in the aftermath. One of its key aims, after all, is to separate western societies and their Muslim communities: if Muslims are left feeling rejected, besieged and hated, Isis believes, then the recruitment potential will only multiply.