Muslim group calls for urgent talks as Brexit vote spurs racism

A leading Muslim group in the U.K. Monday called for an urgent meeting of political and civic leaders after dozens of “shocking manifestations of hate speech” following Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. “There have been countless incidents reported including a Polish center being daubed with racist graffiti, a racist demonstration outside a mosque in Birmingham, and many reports of Muslims and others being taunted with ‘go back home!’ or similar sentiments,” the Muslim Council of Britain said.

The group compiled social media reports of more than 100 racist incidents following Thursday’s referendum, ranging from demands that people speak English to threats and small protests.

The Polish embassy in London also said yesterday it was deeply concerned by what it said were recent incidents of xenophobic abuse directed against the Polish community since Britain voted to leave the European Union.

Police said offensive leaflets targeting Poles had been distributed in Huntingdon, central England, and graffiti had been daubed on a Polish cultural center in central London on Sunday, three days after the vote. Both incidents were being treated as racially motivated hate crimes, police said. The Polish embassy said in a statement: “We are shocked and deeply concerned by the recent incidents of xenophobic abuse directed against the Polish community and other U.K. residents of migrant heritage. At the same time, we would like to (offer thanks) for all the messages of support and solidarity with the Polish community expressed by the British public.”

Cambridgeshire Police said officers had met upset members of the local Polish community after offensive leaflets were left on cars and delivered to homes on Sunday. According to the local paper, the Cambridge News, the cards, which had a Polish translation, reading: “Leave the EU/No more Polish vermin.” “The production and distribution of this and any other similar material is committing the crime of inciting racial hatred,” said Detective Superintendent Martin Brunning in a statement.

At the Polish Social and Cultural Association in London, which opened in 1974 and is home to the majority of Britain’s Polish organizations, graffiti was painted on the side of the building calling on Poles to leave the United Kingdom. “This is an outrageous act that disgusts not only me and the Polish community but everyone in Hammersmith & Fulham,” local lawmaker Andy Slaughter said on Twitter.

“We need leadership now more than ever before,” said Shuja Shafi, head of the Muslim Council, which represents some 2.7 million British Muslims. “Our country is experiencing a political crisis which, I fear threatens the social peace,” Shafi said. “Whatever differences we may have, it is vitally important that we demonstrate solidarity for those attacked, and state, in the words of the murdered MP Jo Cox, that we have far more in common than which divides us,” he said.

Two people were arrested during a protest by the far-right English Defence League outside the mosque in Birmingham’s Sheldon district on Saturday. One man was charged with “racially aggravated public order,” threatening behavior and obstructing police, West Midlands Police said on Monday.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has asked London police to be on heightened alert to deal with a possible increase in hate crimes as a result of the British vote to leave the European Union. Khan said Monday there would be “zero tolerance” for any attempt to divide communities. “I’ve asked our police to be extra vigilant for any rise in cases of hate crime, and I’m calling on all Londoners to pull together and rally behind this great city. He spoke after a Polish diplomat complained about abuse directed at the Polish community since Thursday’s vote.

Immigration was a big issue in the vote. Those wanting to take Britain out of the EU say that will make it easier for Britain to control its borders. Prime Minister David Cameron has also condemned a spate of racist attacks since the referendum, saying he would “not tolerate intolerance.”

“We should be absolutely clear that this government will not tolerate intolerance… intimidating migrants, telling them they need to go home,” his spokeswoman told journalists.

John O’Connell, from anti-racism group Far Right Watch, said they had recorded over 90 incidents in the last three days, ranging from “verbal abuse up to physical violence.” Sky News journalist Adam Boulton tweeted that he had seen three “‘when are you going home?’ Racist incidents aimed at EU citizens.”

Finance minister George Osborne called for “unity of spirit and purpose,” and urged Britons to “condemn hatred and division wherever we see it.” “Britain is an open and tolerant country and I will fight with everything I have to keep it so,” he said.

Recently, support for far-right Eurosceptic parties across Europe has been surging especially over fears of a refugee influx fleeing violence and persecution in the Middle East and Africa. Political parties like the AfD in Germany or Front National (FN) in France have adopted a strong anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim discourse. Last week, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Brexit signaled a turning point in European history and warned that new withdrawals from the EU would be “inevitable” unless it revised its policies to address migration, rising racism and Islamophobia in Europe.


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