EXCLUSIVE – Barcelona Muslims stand against terrorism, but worry about racist backlash

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SHAFAQNA – “We denounce terrorists! We feel sad for Barcelona!” Among the crowd mourning at Las Ramblas on Saturday stood a woman holding a white board reads so. She and her three companions, all in hijabs and robes, seemed quite eye-catching among the people in summer-style dresses.

Naima Aselman came to Spain from Morocco, a country some of the suspects of the double terror attacks have roots in. She joined the Spanish King, the prime minister and tens of thousands of people in minute’s silence Friday noon on Catalonia Square nearby, and came again Saturday with her two sisters and one friend.

“We are feeling sad. We need to stand with others against terrorism,” said Aselman, with her friend sitting on the ground silently in tears and leaning on her leg. “But we also need to make clear that those perpetrators are crazy people and cannot represent Muslims!”

Terrorist attacks in Barcelona and nearby Cambrils killed 14 civilians and wounded more than 100, following similar incidents in London, Paris and other European cities.

After the Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attacks, Muslims are worried about being falsely linked to terrorists, and even discriminated.

Aselman was pleased with the open-minded environment in Barcelona where she has lived for 20 years. However, she is now worried that she will be treated differently or viewed suspiciously.

“Although people stared at my dressing and especially my hijab sometimes, that were still rare cases. But I don’t know the future. Maybe we should be more vigilant,” said Aselman.

Barcelona has the largest Muslim community in Spain. About 5.6 percent out of the total population of 5.5 million here, or 320,000 in number, believe in Islam. A considerable number of Muslims living here are immigrants, especially from Morocco, a North African country separated from Spain just by the narrow Gibraltar Strait.

Spanish police arrested three Moroccan citizens and one Spanish involved in the attacks on Friday. They were still hunting for another man of Morocco origin who is believed the key suspect in Barcelona attack.

As a string of terrorist attacks in Europe were related to those who originated from the Middle East and North Africa, Muslims here fear the rise of xenophobia against them and right-wing populist politics in some countries.

“Moment ago when I was talking to those Muslims ladies in Arabic, a man passed by and called me ‘Moros!’ That is a very insulting word for Moroccan people,” said a lady with Moroccan origin and working in Barcelona.

“Maybe the open and liberal atmosphere will come to an end after so many terrorist attacks in Europe. Maybe,” said the woman in her 40’s who declined to give her name. “In this sense, we are victims of terrorism too.”

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