Faith, hope and clarity

Ruhul Tarafder is a Muslim who carries a rucksack to work in
London. Since 7/7 he has been aware of people eyeing him
suspiciously on public transport. Tarafder, campaigns co-ordinator
for black human rights organisation the 1990 Trust, says: “The
other day when I got on the tube at Aldgate East no one sat next to
me. But I don’t blame people in the current climate.”

The climate is such that the British National Party felt it was
justified in handing out flyers for a council by-election in
Barking, east London, depicting the number 30 bus after the
Tavistock Square bomb blasted its roof off. The accompanying words
read: “Maybe now it’s time to start listening to the BNP.”

Tarafder has not faced verbal abuse or attack, unlike other victims
of the spate of racist incidents that have occurred since the
London bombings. He says: “Racists are taking advantage and they
don’t differentiate between Muslim, Hindu or Sikh. Anyone who isn’t
white is targeted.

“But the threat of terror means these are scary times, not just for
the Muslim community but for all communities.”

Tarafder is the 1990 Trust’s representative on the Muslim Safety
Forum – where representatives from most of the main Muslim
organisations regularly meet senior officers from New Scotland Yard
to inform them of safety concerns.

Clearly, community relations are in danger of disintegrating in the
current climate. Tarafder lays some of the blame at the hands of
Tony Blair, his ministers and the media. “The police haven’t used
the language that they have, like ‘evil ideology’. It fuels hatred.
The BNP actually quotes the government in some of its statements.
“Somewhere there is a criminal or a terrorist. Why do they have to
put Muslim in front of that?”

He believes that good community relations are the responsibility of
everybody. “Most Muslim communities are aware of western culture,
but how aware are they [westerners] of Muslim culture? There is no
understanding of Islam. The unknown is always scary and people
equate Islam with terror. We need to open our mosques more so
people can come and see there’s nothing to be scared of – Islam
means peace.”

The Muslim Council of Britain is working hard to promote this
message and ensure that race relations work is not jeopardised by
the backlash since 7/7. The council was one of several
organisations called to join Blair’s Muslim task force days after
the bombings.
Ibrahim Mogra, chair of the council’s masjid (mosque) and community
affairs committee – and a member of the Home Office community
cohesion panel – says that, although there is always room for
improvement, before 7/7 work was going in the right

“Communities are bonding together which was clearly shown after 7/7
as the Muslim community wasn’t marginalised. We must continue this
cohesion exercise.”

For him it is important to stress that terrorism has nothing to do
with Islam or Muslim beliefs. “I don’t believe that any religion
teaches violence.

“On the positive side, communities have rallied round and we have
received many  e-mails of support from people who can distinguish
between evil and religion.”

He thinks the main responsibility lies with Muslims to share their
faith with their non-Muslim neighbours, who, in turn, need to ask
questions without worrying about causing offence. “There has never
been a more crucial time [for Muslims], not even after 9/11,
because this is in our country, on our streets. This is the time
when we need to stand up and be counted and show the nation we
abhor this.”

According to the Local Government Association, it is too early to
gauge whether the London bombings will have a negative impact on
community cohesion, although the Metropolitan Police, indeed police
forces throughout the country, have reported significant increases
in anti-Muslim incidents. The LGA advocates local authorities work
alongside other partners to promote cohesion in the aftermath,
especially with the police, to prosecute hate crimes, and with
faith and community leaders to challenge myths and

Local authorities have a statutory duty to promote good race
relations and much hard work has taken place, particularly since
the race riots in Bradford, Oldham and Burnley in 2001, between
councils and their local partners to encourage cohesion.

Many have implemented community reassurance work whereby they
publish police responses to particular incidents. Hate crime
monitoring through crime reduction disorder partnerships has also
taken place as well as local media work dispelling myths,
stereotypes and rumours; work with young people to promote
diversity; celebrations of all festivals; citizenship education in
schools; and interfaith work.

Mogra wants local authorities to set up regular meetings of
representatives from the council, police, faith communities and
non-faith communities to provide a forum for discussing local

None of these initiatives is new to Paul Winstone, policy officer
working on faith issues in the chief executive’s office at
Leicester Council. The city prides itself on being a cohesive,
multicultural city.

Leicester Council of Faiths represents the eight main religions in
the city: Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Judaism, Jainism,
Buddhism and Bah‡<200A>'<200A>’. The Council of
Faiths receives £50,000 from the local authority each

“The Council of Faiths is an invaluable ally,” says Winstone. “It
is involved in everything we do.”

Good race relations in Leicester are the result of hard, continuous
work with a cross-party approach, he says. There is also a
multicultural advisory think tank of city chief executives, police
and representatives of all communities. It meets monthly and is
chaired by the editor of the Leicester Mercury, Nick

Winstone’s advice for local authorities is to “have meetings with
the Muslim community and show total unity with them in public”.
This would reduce the risk of them being isolated, he says.

“Since 7/7 there have been two major initiatives – a peace vigil
called for by the Federation of Muslim Organisations and supported
by the council and an event for Muslim youth to integrate into
mainstream society by offering them the chance to volunteer. We
have also put out a statement saying we are a multi-faith,
multicultural city and we are not going to be broken apart by

Do’s and Don’ts for community cohesion

  • Do involve the local strategic partnership if possible.
  • Do ensure that leadership and involvement is balanced across
    the sectors (statutory, voluntary, community and so on).
  • Do think about widening the representation on the partnership
    to encompass faith groups.
  • Do ensure the police are involved. 
  • Do consider using high-profile leaders to champion
  • Do consider trying to establish community cohesion “champions”
    within each partner organisation.
  • Don’t assume that the partnership is clear about its role with
    regard to community cohesion; spend time explaining what it is all
  • Don’t exclude leaders from the community.
  • Don’t ignore racism.
  • From Community Cohesion: Seven Steps, A Practitioner’s Toolkit,
    available from

Catalogue of hate 
The Metropolitan Police recorded more than 200 faith-hate
crimes, mainly directed at British Muslims, in the fortnight after
7/7. During the same period last year there were 30 reported
incidents. Nationally, the figure has passed 1,200. 

According to the Institute of Race Relations, incidents include: 

  • 24 July: Two Asian restaurant workers are racially assaulted in
    Atherstone, Coventry. One is stabbed.
  • 22 July: A shop owned by Muslims in the Harehills area of Leeds
    is set alight in an arson attack. 
  • 22 July: South east Wales race equality council reports a rise
    in reported incidents of racist abuse. More than 30 incidents have
    been reported in two weeks; the usual rate is 10 a month.
  • 15 July: A racist letter threatening to kill Muslims and burn
    mosques is sent to Shah Jalal mosque and Islamic centre in Cardiff;
    animal parts are also left at the mosque.

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