‘Punish a Muslim Day’ campaign raises alarm in U.K.

British counterterrorism police are investigating letters, sent to addresses across the country, encouraging people to take part in “Punish a Muslim Day.”

Muslim children carrying flowers join with London police officers and members of the public as they hold a vigil on Westminster Bridge in central London on March 29, 2017, one week after the Westminster terror attack. File Photo by Andy Rain/EPA
Muslim children carrying flowers join with London police officers and members of the public as they hold a vigil on Westminster Bridge in central London on March 29, 2017, one week after the Westminster terror attack. File Photo by Andy Rain/EPA

Images of the letter, which contain a list of violent actions alongside points for performing them, have been shared widely online. The letters, whose senders remain unknown, propose April 3 as “Punish a Muslim Day.”
The actions include verbal abuse, pulling off a woman’s hijab, physical assault and even the use of acid as a weapon. The list calls for participants to “murder a Muslim” and “burn a mosque.”

“Are you a sheep like the vast majority of the population,” the letter asks. “Sheep follow orders and are easily led. They are allowing the white-majority nations of Europe and North America to become overrun by those who would like nothing more than to do us harm and to turn our democracies into Sharia-led police states.”

The letter is reminiscent of far-right rhetoric that outgoing U.K. counterterrorism chief Mark Rowley warned in late February is on the rise across Europe.

Assistant Chief Constable Tim Forber of South Yorkshire police said the investigation into the “Punish a Muslim Day” letters was continuing.

“These communications are extremely distressing and we appreciate that members of our communities will be very concerned,” he said. “I can assure you that these documents are being taken extremely seriously and a thorough investigation into the circumstances is under way.”

The letters are being investigated by Counter Terrorism Policing North East, which has called on anybody receiving the letters to report them immediately.

U.K. Communities Secretary Sajid Javid condemned the letters. “Let me be clear, British Muslims should be able to live without fear of abuse and attack and we will do everything in our power to tackle those who spread hate,” he posted on Twitter.

Despite official reassurances and the police investigation, Muslim community groups and figures expressed alarm, linking the campaign to broader anti-Muslim sentiment across the country.

“This letter appears to be symptomatic of the rise in Islamophobia we have witnessed in recent times,” said a statement from the Muslim Engagement and Development group. “We call upon the government to take Islamophobia as seriously as other forms of hate crime.”

Tell MAMA, a national anti-Muslim hate monitoring project, warned that the campaign could be linked to a wider campaign of hate against Muslims, noting that the letters were routed through a Sheffield sorting office, mirroring a “Muslim Slayer” campaign last year.

The Muslim Slayer campaign involved mosques in the United Kingdom and the United States receiving death threats in the mail in 2017.

“This has caused quite a lot of fear within the community,” Tell MAMA director Iman Atta told local media. “They are asking if they are safe, if their children are safe to play outdoors. We have told them to keep calm and to phone the police if they receive one of these letters.”

Tell MAMA reported that letters had been sent to locations in London, Birmingham, Leicester, Cardiff, Sheffield and Bradford — all cities with large Muslim communities.

Mustafa Field, director of the Faith Forum for London group, said he was “deeply disturbed by these hate-filled letters, which seek to spread anxiety and division amongst our diverse and prospering communities.”

“We’ll continue to stand united against such venomous hatred, because only through coming together can we truly combat these dark and fragmented corners of society,” he added.

Qari Asim, senior imam at the Leeds Makkah Mosque, also expressed alarm. “There’s no denying that these revolting letters have caused alarm amongst many in the Muslim community. These attempts to divide us represent the very worst of a deplorable anti-Muslim sentiment that has been rearing its head with increasing frequency over the past year,” he said.

“It is reassuring however to see the excellent response from our authorities and wider communities taking this so seriously,” he added.

Muslims in the United Kingdom responded to the letter by initiating “Love a Muslim Day” for April 3, with #LoveaMuslimDay and #SpreadLovenotHate going viral in Britain.

Suggested actions include “smile at a Muslim” and “buy a Muslim a coffee.”

The article originally appeared at The Arab Weekly.

By Mahmud el-Shafey, The Arab Weekly