Burning of Grenfell Tower effigy reveals why Islamophobia is everyone’s problem
The video of a group of people burning an effigy of the Grenfell Tower and its occupants on bonfire night went viral in November. It was condemned widely with many rightly expressing outrage. I was furious. I was so angry I couldn’t even begin to put into words how appalled and outraged I was.
The video was utterly disgusting. Not only did the people involved gleefully burn the effigy, they had also gone to great pains to draw miniature people and children, stuck on the sides of the mock tower. They mimicked cries for help, whilst simultaneously taunting the mock-up victims. In one instance, a participant can be heard referring to “little ninjas” and telling the mock victims goodbye.
It is unfathomable what type of people could plan and orchestrate such a despicable act. Seventy-two people died in the Grenfell fire tragedy, and many more were deeply impacted, through no fault of their own. The victims of the Grenfell tragedy are still waiting for justice. Their lives have been wrecked, as they literally watched their loved ones burn alive. Many are still waiting for homes.
And now the victims and everyone affected by Grenfell have to endure this disgusting video, re-living that awful night. There is some but little solace in the fact that Scotland Yard have confirmed the suspects presented themselves to a south London police station over the shocking incident, and are being questioned.
Since this video surfaced online, another video surfaced of two women who filmed themselves laughing whilst placing bacon on the door of a Mosque in Oldham, whilst worshippers were inside.
Both videos emerge from the backdrop of a record number of anti-Muslim hate crimes reported over the last year, and Home Office statistics showing that more than half of religiously-motivated attacks in 2017-18 were directed at Muslims. The next most commonly targeted group are Jewish people.
The video of the burning of the Grenfell Tower effigy contained Islamophobic undertones. In particular, the reference to “little ninjas” in the video is an Islamophobic slur used to refer to women who wear the niqab, which covers their faces. These slurs echoed former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s ‘letterbox’ and ‘bank robbers’ comments about women who wear a niqab or burka. Following these comments, British Muslim women – who are most likely to be targets of Islamophobic hate crime – experienced an increase in hate incidents: one woman told me she got on the bus in her local area and was repeatedly called a ‘letterbox’ by young men.
Upon reflection, then, it is not surprising that this video contained a dimension of anti-Muslim hatred, given the backdrop of increasing hatred fuelled by lies spread by the likes of far right extremist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka ‘Tommy Robinson’. After the Grenfell fire tragedy, Robinson filmed himself stating that most victims were illegal immigrants who died due to overpopulation in the Grenfell Tower, and that these “facts” had been covered-up by the government and mainstream media.
The truth is that the Grenfell fire took place because of systemic failures. As a society we failed the residents of Grenfell. We are still failing them, if this type of hatred is allowed to fester and grow. By turning a blind eye every time we see hate online or on the streets. By being unbothered by the constant demonisation of women who wear the niqab, because it is something that we disagree with,and covering the face makes us feel uncomfortable. Now more than ever it is important to not let silence become complicity in hatred towards people, who do not suffer the same oppression as you.
With the refresh of its Hate Crime Action Plan, the Home Office has launched a new public awareness campaign to educate the general public on what a hate crime is. It is a much needed campaign which will help to increase awareness and understanding of what constitutes a hate crime. However, policy level solutions cannot alone tackle increasing societal polarisation and extreme hatred on both ends of the political spectrum. This type of work needs to be done at a grassroots community-led level.
Widespread condemnation and outrage at the burning of the Grenfell Tower effigy, from the Prime Minister to firemen who responded on that tragic night, has been welcome. But we need to do more. It’s time to realise that it’s in our hands. We can come together and say hatred will not win. We can stop being silent. We can create a society in which far right and far left bigots do not fester but are challenged, educated and ultimately silenced by the majority of society being intolerant of their divisive and hateful views.
By Akeela Ahmed MBE
Founder and Editor in Chief
Akeela Ahmed has been an equalities activist and campaigner for nearly nearly 20 years. On Muslim Women’s Day, she was listed in Nylon magazine as an activist that is ‘making a difference’. In 2014 she founded ‘She Speaks We Hear’ which gives unfiltered women’s voice a platform. Akeela advises and works with government in tackling anti-Muslim hatred, sitting on the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group. She is also a social entrepreneur within the social housing sector. Akeela is co-organiser of the Women’s March on London and in January 2017, she spoke to over one hundred thousand people at the Women’s March on London. For her work with WML she was listed as one of Stylist’s Women of the Year 2017.
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