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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Hate crimes up as far-right stokes tensions in Manchester

Anti-Muslim violence spiked in the immediate aftermath of the attacks with mosques and prominent Muslim surgeon targeted

Police reported a 500 per cent spike in hate crime in the city in the immediate aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017. Oli Scraff / AFP
Police reported a 500 per cent spike in hate crime in the city in the immediate aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017. Oli Scraff / AFP

Several months after the suicide bomb attack on Manchester Arena, Siema Iqbal read the story of Aladdin to her six-year-old son and asked what three wishes he would ask from the genie of the lamp.

Predictably in this city of two world-famous clubs, he said that he wanted to be a footballer, to be famous - and to be safe. “That really shocked me, it made me sad,” said Ms Iqbal, a doctor in Manchester.

A family acquaintance, well-respected surgeon Nasser Kurdy, was stabbed in the neck in a suspected hate crime in September in nearby Altrincham. But she was still taken aback that her son was expressing such fears.

Police reported a 500 per cent spike in hate crime in the city in the immediate aftermath of the attack on the pop concert attended mainly by children and their families. The incidents included a surge in threats to kill on social media, which were dealt with by police.

The nature of an attack targeting children meant the backlash was the largest following any of the terrorist attacks that have hit Britain in 2017, according to a group monitoring incidents of anti-Muslim abuse, Tell Mama. It said that 90 percent of incidents were generally not reported to the police.

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The city’s officials, police and residents have been lauded for their response to the tragedy and rallying around the slogan of “We love Manchester”.

The city has historically been open to mass migration, started by Irish workers drawn for work in textile mills in the 19th century. The Arab population amounts to about two per cent of the 500,000 population in the city and less in satellite districts.

“Manchester came together in a way that I’ve never witnessed before. It was the first time I felt really proud to be a Mancunian,” said Fakrul Choudhury, regional coordinator for Tell Mama. “But in parts of Manchester and in the surrounding towns hate crime did increase.”

A fund for the victims has raised £18 million and a series of city centre vigils were held in the aftermath of the tragedy to remember the dead and the hundreds wounded.

“Many Muslims did come, but I know that many, many did not come for fear of if they wore a headscarf would they be treated differently,” said Ms Iqbal also a volunteer for the grassroots organisation Muslim engagement and development.

Hate crimes more than doubled in May and June 2017 compared to the previous year, according to figures compiled by the Greater Manchester Police. The most recent figures for August show that such crimes have reduced from the peak but were still two-thirds higher than the previous year.

Britain saw similar spikes following other terrorist attacks in 2017 that have left 36 people dead, including two attacks in London when vehicles were used to ram pedestrians. Other anti-Muslim attacks were seen following overseas incidents of terrorism, the Brexit vote and the election of president Donald Trump, according to Tell Mama.

“It’s normally short-lived and goes back to normal levels – saying that normal levels are still very high,” said Mr Choudhury.

At least two mosques were hit in the Greater Manchester area in the months and days after the Arena attacks. Didsbury mosque, where Salman Abedi and his family attended, was sent into shutdown earlier this month after the delivery of a white powder while children were attending classes.

Prominent figures from the far-right have visited the mosque and posted videos of them confronting officials.