In response to all this, Muslim representatives frequently stress that the problem of Islamophobia (a term that remains contentious in many countries) is by no means confined to a far-rightist fringe. They insist that an anti-Muslim climate has been created by politicians much closer to the respectable centre-right, or in the French case by zealous advocates of the century-old doctrine of laïcité, or strict secularism.
At Birmingham Central Mosque, one of the leading places of Islamic worship in Britain, the initial reaction to New Zealand’s horror was one of inter-faith solidarity. Representatives of all local creeds gathered to offer sympathy and support. But mosque leaders say their people live daily with abuse, spitting, jostling and in the case of women, attempts to grab their scarves. Nassar Mahmood, a mosque trustee, says social peace in the city is challenged on many fronts. Reduced levels of policing (because of budget cuts) lead to a rise in petty crime that, he fears, may be blamed on Muslims. “We could very easily face attacks similar to those in New Zealand that would destabilise our social harmony,” he says. In the early hours of March 21st, five mosques in Birmingham were attacked with sledgehammers.
Salma Yaqoob, a local politician of the left who may be Birmingham’s best-known Muslim woman, has been adamant that the problem goes far beyond an extremist white-nationalist fringe. Her response to the New Zealand massacre was to “call out” mainstream Tory politicians who in her view played to the gallery with anti-Muslim innuendos.