Did you know that hate crimes can impact places of worship? A hate crime can be any criminal or non-criminal act such as graffiti, vandalism to property, name-calling, assault, or online abuse using social media. Recent statistics from the Home Office have shown that there has been a surge in hate crimes directed at people in England and Wales, because of their religious beliefs. Indeed, the UK Government has recently pledged £5 million pounds for a security fund for places of worship. Specifically, the Home Office data found that hate crimes increased by 40%, (5,949 in 2016-17) to (8,336 in 2017-18), with most religious hate crime - 52% of all offences - aimed at Muslims. Recent terrorist attacks in Christchurch where fifty Muslims were killed inside a mosque and the attacks in Sri Lanka against Christian worshippers on Easter Sunday at a Church, as well as the case of Darren Osborne who was convicted of murder following him driving a van into a crowd of Muslim worshippers near a London mosque, all reveal the significant impact hate crimes can have upon worshippers at places of worship.
Mosques and Islamic centres across the UK have recently seen an increase in hate crimes, leading to increased security concerns. For example, graffiti and offensive images were scrawled on the walls of the Bahr Academy in the West End of Newcastle. The furniture was overturned, items broken and copies of the Quran were thrown on the floor. This is the third time this specific mosque has been targeted with a hate crime. Following the second so-called ‘Punish A Muslim Day Letter’ which called for direct action against British Muslims and mosques, Muslims and wider communities are living in a state of fear and shock.
Three million Muslims make up approximately 5% of the UK’s population. There are an estimated 1,750 mosques across the country. In reaction to an increase in reported attacks, the “Punish a Muslim Day” leaflets sent directly to mosques in the spring of 2018, and the fearful response that ensued, the safety and security needs of British Muslim communities and places of worship have become a key concern.
The targeting of mosques can lead to a targeting of other places of worship, because they are deemed to be similar to mosques i.e. places such as synagogues, temples, churches, and gurdwaras. Because they are wrongly perceived by the perpetrators as Muslim mosques, gurdwara, for example, have been targeted with anti-Islamic graffiti. The Central gurdwara in Glasgow was daubed with green paint with the Islamophobic message next to a Nazi swastika sign.
So what does this all mean?
Barricading places of worship will not help, but some effort to engage with wider practitioners and provide training could be a way forward.
From a structural perspective, we need to invest more in places of worship. While the new UK government fund for places of worship will help, assist local institutions, much more must be done to help communities rebuild trust and therefore places of worship should be much more about engaging with wider practitioners and providing training for local faith leaders in the role of keeping communities safe and also feeling a sense of empowerment.
We need places of faith and worship to use this to apply for specialist equipment ultimately leading to safer communities. Barricading places of worship will not help, but some effort to engage with wider practitioners and provide training could be a way forward.
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