Wednesday's fire at an Islamic center in North London is being investigated as a potential hate crime. Residents of the Muswell Hill suburb expressed concern over the possibility that the fire, which destroyed the Al-Rahma Islamic Centre, could have been an act of retaliation for the recent killing of a British soldier in Woolwich, Southeast London. While no conclusive evidence has yet been presented to indicate that this is the case, a spokesman for the center speculated that the English Defence League (EDL), a far-right group, may have been behind the attack, claiming that the letters EDL had been sprayed on the building.
The center functioned as a home for the Somali Bravanese Welfare Association and was not used for religious services. The targeting of the building, which most often housed children for after-school activities, has local residents and leaders of the self-proclaimed “highly diverse multi-ethnic borough” searching for answers. Many have been quick to look to rising tensions between the Muslim community and far-right groups such as the EDL for possible explanations. Although these fears are as of yet unsubstantiated, residents of the borough appear confident that police will soon begin making connections. However, as the investigation gets underway it is important to consider this crime in the larger context of growing extremism of all forms. It is a mechanism which generates its own reason for being: creating more violence, more hatred, more opposing extremism to fight.
This Monday served as a reminder of mounting tensions, as legal proceedings began for the May 22 murder of 25-year-old soldier Lee Rigby of the 2nd Battalion RRF. The first court appearance of accused Michael Adebolajo, 28, was marked by various interruptions, including Adebolajo waving around and kissing a book which appeared to be the Quran. Adebolajo had previously been recorded on video claiming responsibility for Rigby’s attack, “because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers,” prompting outrage from many corners of British society. Most notably, former Prime Minister Tony Blair subsequently claimed that there is “a problem with Islam” which Britain needs to face.
And now comes the backlash. Since Rigby's murder there have been 12 attacks on mosques and 222 anti-Muslim incidents, according to local groups that monitor hate crimes. In the days and weeks to come it will hopefully be revealed who was behind the senseless destruction of a peaceful community organization’s home and the cruel disturbance to the lives of all individuals who were affected. And while the fire may or may not ultimately be proven to be a hate crime, this event has already done a great deal to demonstrate the vicious cycle of extremism. With every crime of hatred, every building destroyed, every life forever altered by intolerance, the problem grows larger. If it has not been made clear by the events of late in London, it may never be clear: Despite what Mr. Blair may claim, the problem is not Islam. The real problem is the intolerance that perpetuates extremism.