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“Am I hated because of my religion?”

This is the actual text of a female victim of anti-Muslim hate, who wrote this blog in the 72 hours after the attack. The incident happened at Cabot Circus on 21 July 2014 against 36-year-old project manager Hasina. Her words are her own but have been slightly updated in 2017.

Having been born and raised in Bristol, I have many times throughout my life experienced hostility and racism, from being called ‘Paki’ in the street to having alcohol thrown at me.  It’s a reality that we have somehow accepted.  I remember the 1990 Iraq invasion and being pushed by a boy at school followed by ‘haha we are bombing you’ to more recent years when the world turned to topple Libya, I experienced yet again a rise in racism.  In fact every time there is aggression towards Muslims outside of the UK, I experience aggression from within the UK.  However, nothing could have prepared me for what happened Monday morning on the way to work.  Because of Israel’s bombardment of the mainly Muslim population of Gaza was I again being targeted?

I was walking through Cabot Circus approx. 9am, I had just seen an old work colleague and stopped to talk about the weekend. I continued to walk through Cabot Circus, just passed Pret A Manger, and a man came charging towards me with such aggression I thought he was going to punch me in the face. He was ranting and as I took my earphone out my ear so I could hear him, he lunged forward and he spat in my face. I also felt it fall onto my left hand.  I was in utter shock at what was happening.  I asked him what his problem was as he continued to aggressively rant at me and said something along the lines of ‘your people are killing’ and something about the ‘Middle East’ and ‘killing Christians’. He spat at me again, it was terrifying I thought he was going to attack me at any second.  Then my defence mechanism just kicked in and I started to shout at him. Cowardly, he then started to back away and he tried to say something else but I shouted over him and continued to shout at him until he left Cabot Circus. I then shouted at the onlookers for not helping me and it felt like the whole of Cabot Circus was covered by my voice.

I cannot make sense of what he was saying or anyway reconcile in my mind why he attacked me, but it is clear that I was targeted because I am a Muslim woman.  I have read so many reports that hate crime towards Muslim women is on the increase in the UK but nothing really prepares you for what to do if it happens to you and how humiliating, terrifying and dirty it makes you feel.

I continued to walk to work, tears streaming, I just wanted to wash myself.  It wasn’t until I saw myself in the mirror in the toilet at work that I saw the spit all over my Hijab and it had seeped through to my underscarf too.  I immediately began to wash my headscarf, I was in a total state and very upset and angry at what had happened to me. A colleague was helping me and she was also very upset and shocked and when she had dried my scarf under the dryer I immediately washed it again.

I called the police and they said they would visit to take a statement. I said I was happy for them to interview me at my place of work, after all I had done nothing wrong, why should I hide away?  This is a reality that happens to Muslim women on an ongoing basis, people need to know that this is real.

I rang ‘TELL MAMA’. They are a very valuable organisation that measure anti-Muslim hate crime attacks and they also followed up with the police and provide support if the police do not act.  The policewoman who interviewed me said they could have used the spit on the scarf as DNA. It’s difficult to think practically after being assaulted, but is important Muslim women consider gathering evidence should they be victim of attack like mine.

Two thirds of victims of religious Hate Crime are Muslims. Muslim women are especially vulnerable to Hate Crime having more than one protected characteristic (religious and gender). They are likely to experience the brunt of Islamophobia due to religious attire. There has been a 41% increase in police reported racial hate crime since the EU Referendum but these crimes are still severely underreported.

I found out today that another Muslim woman was attacked in Bristol City Centre last week.  I feel quite strongly that the police along with Bristol City Council should be working with the community to make Muslim women aware of the real threat that is now unfortunately a reality. Perhaps Muslim women should carry a spare scarf so they can have a clean one should they be attacked. I would also suggest, if possible, that Muslim women do not travel alone even in the daylight as these cowardly men prey on what they perceive to be vulnerable looking young women. I believe, most, if not all the attacks on Muslim women are carried out by men.  I am sure that they would not attack a man.

I have always thought of Bristol as a wonderful city, a city of sanctuary and one that prides itself of its rich multi-cultural diversity. Many people (Muslim and non-Muslim) are of course very shocked by the horrific attacks on Gaza at the moment. We really need our so called leaders to be very vocal about attacks on Muslims to de-legitimise them, no excuses, no trying to justify.

I have been in tears for most of today, It makes me very angry and upset that this happens in our society and it makes me scared to think what would happen to other women who might not stand up for themselves. As it happened in Cabot Circus, the CCTV footage should be able to find the man (I find it hard to use the word ‘man’, he doesn’t deserve to be called a ‘man’). I hope he is caught so he cannot terrorise and traumatise other women. (However, the police have just informed me that they won’t be able to review the CCTV footage until at least Thursday, I am fearful that other women may be attacked or I will be attacked again until he is dealt with.)

Tell MAMA engaged and worked with Hasina after she was a victim of religious motivated hate crime because of her Muslim identity. The attack left her feeling vulnerable, but she reported it into Tell MAMA. Through work with Avon and Somerset police, Tell MAMA and Hasina, the perpetrator, pleaded guilty to racially or religiously aggravated common assault at Bristol Magistrates' Court earlier and was convicted. Don’t suffer in silence – Report Hate Incidents in to access justice.