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Islamophobia Meeting in Redbridge

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I am worried about an ugly trend that is appearing across Western liberal democracies of a rise in hate crime and the attack on people perceived to be different. We've seen it with the rise of far right fascism across Europe. We saw it in the way that the US President-elect Donald Trump whipped up hatred against Muslims and Mexicans as part of his election campaign. And we're seeing it closer to home with a rise in racist hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime and a rise in hatred against Muslims and Jews.

Against this backdrop, last Thursday I spoke at an incredibly well attended event on the rise of Islamophobia in Redbridge as part of the national Islamophobia Awareness Month, which was launched at the House of Lords.

Hate crime against Muslims has risen across the UK and has risen even further in our own community. We see the manifestation of this hatred in a variety of ways: from the disgraceful attack on local resident Sophia Dar when she was on her way to work on Oxford Street, to the attacks on the Muslim community centre on Snakes Lane East last year.

What shocked me most about the attack on Sophia Dar was that no one - not a single worker or shopper or tourist - on one of London's busiest streets stopped to ask Sophia if she needed help or if she was OK after a man tried to rip her hijab (her religious head scarf) from her head. No one. They all walked by as a member of our community was left shaken and confused about why someone would treat her this way and why no one stopped to help her in broad daylight.

In spite of the bleak backdrop, the meeting was positive, constructive and in some ways uplifting. I was heartened so see so many people - not just Muslims, but people of all faiths and none - join together to talk about how we protect Muslims from hatred. We covered topics ranging from criminal justice and education, to the importance of good role models and the media.

I'm going to be pulling together a meeting of local organisations to formulate an action plan to tackle Islamophobia off the back of this meeting.

This isn't about saying that Islam can't be subjected to critique or comedy, just as every other religion is open to critique or ridicule. But it is about protecting believers from being targeted for discrimination and attack because of their faith.

Each of us has a role to play to create a society where we respect each other and live peacefully together. I want everyone to pledge never to be a bystander to hatred. If you see it, stop it, even with a simple act of kindness to ask if the victim is OK.

Thanks very much to MEND - Muslim Engagement and Development for organising the meeting and to everyone who came along on a cold and wet evening. You can read the Ilford Recorder report here: 

http://www.ilfordrecorder.co.uk/news/big_turnout_for_rise_of_islamophobia_in_redbridge_meeting_1_4771779

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