Attack on Muslims Shakes Cosmopolitan London

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SHAFAQNA – Like many of London’s Muslims, Mohammed Abdullah grew tired of defending himself, and his religion, after Islamist terrorists carried out two attacks in the city and another in Manchester during the past three months. Hostile glances followed him on the street, and rising fury greeted him on social media.

Then came last week’s devastating fire at Grenfell Tower, a citywide tragedy that killed at least 79 people inside the 24-story tower, including many Muslims. “Good riddance,” one far-right forum commented.

But early Monday, a white British man rammed a rental van into a congregation of Muslims leaving prayers during Ramadan, the holiest month on the Muslim calendar. One person was killed and at least 10 were injured.

“It feels like you’re under siege,” said Mr. Abdullah, 23, a law student standing outside Finsbury Park Mosque in North London on Monday morning hours after the attack. “I wonder,” he said, “is anyone going to write about a ‘white Christian terrorist’ this time round?”

But this proudly cosmopolitan city is now confronted with the tensions and ugliness that have been simmering on the fringes for years and are boiling to the surface.

As Hamdan Omar, another student who grew up in the area, put it, “There are people on both sides who want the clash of civilizations.”

The man under investigation for the mosque attack was identified by the police as Darren Osborne, 47, of Cardiff, Wales. Prime Minister Theresa May, who has been criticized for her response to the Grenfell fire, denounced the assault as an act of “evil” and “hatred” and promised to bolster security at mosques.

The authorities said they were treating the attack as an act of terrorism against Muslims, while many of the city’s Muslim leaders pleaded for calm and warned against a rising tide of anti-Islamic sentiment.

“Over the past weeks and months, Muslims have endured many incidents of Islamophobia, and this is the most violent manifestation to date,” said Harun Khan, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain.

In the week after the June 3 terrorist attack on London Bridge and at Borough Market that killed eight people and was carried out by three men inspired by the Islamic State, the Metropolitan Police reported 120 Islamophobic events, compared with 36 the previous week. Similar increases were recorded after the terrorist attacks in March on Westminster Bridge in London, and in May at the Manchester Arena.

On Monday in Finsbury Park, one of London’s many diverse neighborhoods, residents left flowers and messages of solidarity outside the mosque.

“With love, sympathy and support to our Muslim neighbors, victims of this horrific act of terrorism,” one handwritten note read. “This does not represent Finsbury Park,” another read.

The children of a local school had drawn a colorful, even cheerful, sign: “One Community. Standing Together.”

By late morning, the initial fear and shock over the attack had given way to anger — anger at the government and at the news media for too often amalgamating Islam and Islamists. But by the afternoon, another sentiment made itself heard powerfully here: defiance.

“Things like this will only strengthen London,” said Mr. Abdullah, the law student. His grandfather and father had both been praying at the mosque before the attack and were inside when it happened. “An event like this will be met with resilience.”

Uba Osman, 20, a local business manager, concurred: “There are some people who are trying to divide us,” she said. “But they won’t divide us. Londoners are not like that.”

There was a sense of relief here, carefully expressed, that the man suspected in the attack was not from the city. “Somehow, it would have been even worse if he had been from our city,” said Zahra Mounia, 45, a mother of two who lives in South London but traveled here to see a friend after the attack. “We are so proud of this city and what it stands for.”

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