UK should recognise Islamophobia as a crime: Victim’s daughter

Mohammed Saleem, 82, was stabbed to death on his way home after prayers by a man who later planted bombs outside mosques.

Mohammed Saleem, right, pictured with his wife Said Begum [Courtesy of the Saleem family]

On the night of April 29, 2013, Mohammed Saleem, a retired grandfather, was walking home from prayers at his local mosque in Small Heath, a Birmingham suburb.

At 82, he was using a walking stick.

Suddenly, Pavlo Lapshyn, a 25-year-old Ukrainian PhD student, stabbed the elderly man three times in the back with a hunting knife, killing him.

The wound that was highest up on passed all the way through his body.

In June and July, Lapshyn, a white supremacist who wanted, in his words, to “increase racial conflict”, planted bombs outside three mosques in the West Midlands region, targeting the busiest periods – Friday congregations.

He was later arrested and pleaded guilty to all of the charges against him under the Explosive Substances Act of 1883 and the Terrorism Act of 2006. He is now serving at least 40 years in a UK prison.

Saleem’s gruesome murder, which Lapshyn carried out just five days after arriving in the UK on a work visa, devastated Britain’s Muslim community.

More than 5,000 people attended his funeral.

But according to Saleem’s daughter, Maz Saleem, more needs to be done to recognise Islamophobia as a dangerous phenomenon.

She is now calling on the UK government to officially recognise Islamophobia as a crime.

“We need to bring Islamophobia back to the table,” she told Al Jazeera. “Islamophobia has been rising longer than the [so-called] war on terror. Muslims get attacked for the way they look and dress.”

Left to right: Hanif Khan, Saleem’s son-in-law; Shazia Khan, Saleem’s daughter; Massarrat Saleem, Saleem’s daughter; Jamal Ahmed, Saleem’s grandson, outside the Old Bailey on October 21, 2013 [Oli Scarff/Getty Images]

Through her social media campaign, she is urging people to post testimonies with their own experiences of Islamophobic crimes and abuse.

“Mohammed Saleem could have been any of us. That’s why we invite people to share their experiences under the hashtag #IAmMohammedSaleem.”

She also wants the UK to adopt an official legal definition of Islamophobia, a move she hopes will stop it, “once and for all.”

“We need society to recognise the weight of systematic racism that many of us experience daily.

“Islamophobic attacks don’t happen in a vacuum. Individuals are emboldened to act on their hate by government-approved anti-Muslim policies. If we want to put a stop to this, we need to put a name on it.

“How can we tackle the rise of Islamophobia without a definition of what it is?”

The campaign will run through April until the eighth anniversary of her father’s death.

Saleem was a father of seven and a grandfather to 23.

He came to the UK in 1957 from Pakistan to help rebuild the country after WW2.

“He would take triple shifts at the bakery to feed us all. He was a kind, beautiful and hard-working man who empowered his daughters to be politically aware and grateful for having a home in the UK.”

Maz Saleem is the youngest of his children and had a strong bond with him.

“I remember when I received the phone call of his death. The shock of that still lives in me. It doesn’t go away,” she said.

A handout picture released on October 21, 2013, shows the custody photograph of Ukrainian student Pavlo Lapshyn [West Midlands Police/AFP]

Lapshyn was sentenced by High Court judge Mr Justice Sweeney.

“You clearly hold extreme right-wing white supremacist views, and you were motivated to commit the offences by religious and racial hatred in the hope that you would ignite racial conflict and cause Muslims to leave the area where you were living,” Sweeney said in the sentencing remarks.

Inaccurate depictions of the attack have worsened the Saleem family’s suffering, said Maz.

“He (Lapshyn) is not labelled as terrorist in mainstream media. They call him mosque bomber, killer or a far-right attacker. Never a terrorist”.

According to government reports and the hate crime monitor Tell MAMA UK, anti-Muslim hatred has risen in recent years.

Yasmine Adam, spokeswoman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said Islamophobia has been defined by a cross-party parliamentary group and has been endorsed across civil society and by most political parties – except the ruling Conservatives – as “rooted in racism and type of racism that targets Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”.

“It is a glaring omission from our governing party, who should be leading the fight against all forms of bigotry,” said Adam.

Source: Al Jazeera