Faith leaders alarmed at post-referendum abuse and violence

01 July 2016

MARCIN MAZUR

Support: One of the many messages of support sent to the Polish and Social Cultural Association in Hammersmith, London, after vandals sprayed the words "Go Home" on it, on Sunday

Support: One of the many messages of support sent to the Polish and Social Cultural Association in Hammersmith, London, after vandals sprayed the word...

POLICE departments across the country were on high alert this week after the result of the referendum on membership of the European Union led to a string of hate crimes against foreign nationals and ethnic-minority groups over the weekend.

The Bishop of Huntingdon, the Dr David Thomson, said he was “sickened and disturbed” by reports of racist abuse against the Polish community in Cambridgeshire after the UK voted to leave the EU. The Polish community has been targeted: cards reading “no more Polish vermin” were reported to have been posted through letterboxes in Huntingdon, in the diocese of Ely, and racist graffiti was found on the Polish Social and Cultural Association building in Hammersmith, west London, by the Metropolitan Police. It has since been washed off.

“As a Christian, as many of you are, I know that we are called to be one in Christ Jesus, whatever our race or nation,” Dr Thomson wrote on his blog, on Monday. “The attack on you is an attack on me and an attack on all of us: but the love of God will win.”

The Polish ambassador to the UK, Witold Sobkow, also expressed his shock. “We call on all Polish nationals who fall victim of xenophobic abuse and on all witnesses to report such incidents to local authorities,” he said.

A chaplain of the Anglican Church in Warsaw, the Revd David Brown, said this week that, during the campaign, the Polish community in the UK felt that “they were being painted as ‘living off the State’, which in fact is the opposite of the truth. Sadly, they do not feel that they are appreciated as a positive asset to the UK.”

Muslim leaders have also expressed concerns. The Muslim Council of Britain, representing many of the 2.7 million Muslims in the UK, told Reuters that more than 100 hate crimes had been reported since the result. “Our country is experiencing a political crisis which, I fear, threatens the social peace,” the secretary general, Dr Shuja Shafi, said.

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This week, a Muslim councillor in Wales was reportedly told to “pack her bags”; two men shouted “We voted for you being out” at a woman wearing a hijab; and the BBC Radio 4 presenter Sima Kotecha was verbally abused while reporting from Basingstoke, Hampshire.

The founder of Tell Mama, a group monitoring attacks on Muslims, Fiyaz Murghal, said that it had also received details of some 30 incidents, including road rage, bar brawls, and verbal abuse.

“The Brexit vote seems to have given courage to some with deeply prejudicial and bigoted views that they can air them and target them at predominantly Muslim women and visibly different settled communities,” Mr Murghal said.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who is himself Muslim, said that he had asked Scotland Yard to be “extra vigilant” in the wake of the incidents. He later said that London values the contribution Europeans made to the city.

“That won’t change,” he said. “The Met has high-visibility police in those areas where people are concerned. We have to make everyone feel confident in the authorities.”

The Prime Minister said on Monday: “We will not stand for hate crime or these kinds of attacks. They must be stamped out.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, and the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, have also condemned the abuse. In a joint letter to The Times, on Friday, they wrote that reports of escalating discord and racial hatred were a cause for “the gravest concern” and that prejudices must be challenged.

“When fear sets in, it is no more than human nature to seek comfort in the familiar. But such fear must not be allowed to breed mistrust of ‘the other’. . . For all that lies outside of our personal control, every person has the power to conquer their own instinct to apportion blame to others for perceived injustice.”

They called on the British public to “recognise personal accountability for their every action, rather than avoiding that responsibility by looking for scape-goats, and to challenge racial and communal prejudice wherever it is found and thus ensure that we are, more than ever, a country united.”

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