Muslims appeal for unity amid hate crime fears

James Marshall lays flowers at the French Consulate in Edinburgh. Picture: Julie Bull
James Marshall lays flowers at the French Consulate in Edinburgh. Picture: Julie Bull
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MEMBERS of the Capital’s Muslim community have called on residents to show solidarity in the wake of the terrorist massacre in Paris amid fears of a rise in hate crimes.

The call was made as Police Scotland reported a spike in the number of incidents sparked by religious hatred following the attack by extremists in the French capital, which killed 129 and injured more than 350.

Today, Imam Sohail Ashfaque, of Blackhall Mosque, revealed a young child was subjected to alarming comments about religious prejudice from a classmate.

The youngster told Mr Ashfaque that another child had shouted “kill all Muslims” while playing in an Edinburgh playground.

Mr Ashfaque, who would not reveal the school involved, vowed to help stamp out prejudice linking Muslims with terrorists claiming to be carrying out atrocities in the name of Islam.

“It’s a tragedy for humanity, not just for the individual,” Mr Ashfaque said.

“The whole of humanity should feel sorrow. I’ve been speaking to young people and adults. Many of them have heard comments . . . [the playground incident] is saddening to hear.

“Young children, people in the workplace, in schools; they are the answers to the whole thing. These people are not doing it [terrorism] in our name. We want to focus on how we can help, and to be there for people affected.”

Authorities yesterday named an Islamic State jihadi as the mastermind of the terrorist attacks in Paris.

Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian of Moroccan origins, was identified as French president François Hollande vowed to “destroy” IS and proclaimed that his country was “at war”. Abaaoud’s whereabouts are unknown but he could be in Syria.

A minute’s silence was observed across Edinburgh council offices yesterday and in all schools.

A council spokesman said it was “extremely disappointing” to hear claims of playground racism.

“Edinburgh has long been a multi-cultural capital and celebrates the rich diversity within the city.

“As well as the great work carried out by our staff, all of society has an important role to play in ensuring this type of behaviour is regarded as wholly unacceptable and is totally unrepresentative.”

Communities across the city have been left reeling from Friday night’s attacks.

Iain Stewart, of the Edinburgh Interfaith Association, said: “There’s no faith that promotes violence, every faith promotes compassion. For everyone across the world, this is a time to stand together.”

Akeel Umar, of Edinburgh-based Vision Islam, said that it was devastating to see such a “loss of human life”.

“Each one person injured or killed will represent a whole unit of family and their friends, schools and work and communities,” he said.

“It’s extremely sad to witness this. We feel extremely helpless. We are just pawns in this very complicated and complex political game.”

Mr Umar said he had seen “disgusting rhetoric” online from people blaming Islam for the Paris massacre.

Meanwhile, Mohammed Akram MBE, president of the Council of British Pakistanis, told the News that the group condemned the attack.

And Nasim Azad, part of Muslim group Beyond the Veil, said: “Everybody needs to stand together – from your next-door neighbour to your church minister, your imam, and people working in Tesco. We will not be divided or broken up like this because ultimately that’s their motivation.”

The overall threat level to the UK remains “severe”, however Police Scotland is urging people to be “alert but not alarmed”.

Dr Evan Lawrence, a 
lecturer in terrorism and security from the University of Central Lancashire, warned that Edinburgh had “soft targets” including symbolic and tourist attractions.

She said groups such as 
IS would pose a continued threat to UK cities including the Capital. A total of 2000 extra security staff are to be recruited across the UK.

Dr Lawrence said: “I’m sure some of those resources will be allocated to Edinburgh. They will be reviewing security for large events.”

Police said there were no official reports of religious or racially-motivated hate crime in Edinburgh since Friday, however there were elsewhere.

Detective Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said the threat to the UK was “very real”, adding: “Community cohesion in Scotland is strong and the widespread condemnation of the attacks across our diverse communities is evidence of this.”