Shaista Aziz is a freelance journalist who has worked for the BBC, Al Jazeera and The Guardian.
The terrorist attack outside the Muslim Welfare House mosque in London's Finsbury Park in the small hours of Monday morning didn't happen in a vacuum.
This is not an isolated incident of Islamophobic extremist violence.
Far from it.
To suggest the attack in Finsbury Park is an act of violence carried out by a "crazed individual" is not only disingenuous, it is dangerous because it seeks to deliberately erase and deny the fact that hundreds of racist and Islamophobic hate crimes are being recorded in the U.K. It is feared many more are going unreported because Muslims are too scared to report the crimes or do not trust the authorities.
In the small hours of Monday morning, police arrested 47-year-old Darren Osborne on suspicion of terror offences, including attempted murder. This came after he drove from Wales to London and plowed the van he had rented into a crowd of Muslims leaving a mosque after completing late-night prayers during the month of Ramadan. Witnesses described scenes of terror and carnage including a woman in a wheelchair being thrown onto the street during the attack.
One Muslim died, though police have not confirmed whether the vehicle attack was the immediate cause. Eleven others were injured. Osborne is alleged to have shouted, "I'm going to kill all Muslims – I did my bit" after jumping out of the van he had used to attack the congregation.
When Osborne was bundled into the back of a police van, he was seen smiling, waving and blowing kisses.
What drove this man to allegedly commit this act of terrorism? In order to answer this question, we need to understand the context behind the attack. It is vital if we really want to confront the roots of extremism.
The attack in Finsbury Park took place against the backdrop of a rise in Islamophobic hate crimes, racist violence and an increase in far-right extremist activity in the U.K. We absolutely must not ignore the evidence.
First, there's the expert advice of security specialists. After the attack, Security Minister Ben Wallace warned of the rise of far-right extremism in Britain saying: "What I can say on this case is this individual, so far as we know at the moment, was not known to us, but we are aware of a rise in the far-right." He went on to say online propaganda was helping fuel far-right radicalization, just as it was feeding Islamist extremism.
Official government data recorded by the Home Office shows a stark rise in the numbers of people arrested for domestic terrorism offences. Charges have increased 12-fold in the past 12 months. In Britain, far-right terrorist suspects drove the increase, according to an unnamed security expert interviewed by The Telegraph newspaper.
Secondly, the evidence from police reports are stacking up. Figures released by London Mayor Sadiq Khan revealed a five-fold increase in Islamophobic attacks and hate crimes since the London Bridge terrorist attacks earlier this month and a 40-per-cent increase in reported racist incidents compared with the daily average at this time of year.
Police forces across the country have reported an increase in hate crime following the London Bridge and Manchester terror attacks, with counts as much as doubling.
A quick Google search reveals a horrifying archive of evidence of Islamophobic incidents. These hate crimes range from pig heads being dumped outside mosques; rashers of bacon left on the windshields of cars in mosque car parks; arson attacks on mosques; physical violence, including a man being beaten and knocked unconscious, a pregnant Muslim woman being kicked in the stomach causing the miscarriage of her baby, and a woman being subjected to physical and verbal abuse as she sat in her car with her children waiting for traffic lights to change.
Why are we consistently ignoring evidence and testimonies from those who actually work with affected communities? Research carried out by charities and organizations tracking Islamophobic incidents show visible Muslim women – women who wear hijabs and clothing that identifies them as Muslim – bare the brunt of Islamophobic hate crime. Increasingly, Islamophobia is translated as gendered hate crimes against women.
In my experience interviewing Muslim women subjected to these attacks, many are too traumatized to report the incidents to the authorities, while others say the intimidation and violence is so casual and normalized that they have no choice but to ignore it.
One woman told me, "I have to ignore it, or I wouldn't be able to go about my daily life. I would spend my whole time on the phone to report the racist name calling, intimidation and spitting to the police." After the London Bridge attacks, another friend texted me to say she had told her niece to remove her hijab because she feared for her safety. Her niece agreed to do so. Another woman told me she didn't want to tell her family about the physical and verbal Islamophobia she had experienced on public transport in London because she didn't want her family to worry about her safety and suggest she give up her studies.
The act of terror in Finsbury Park – and the hundreds of hate crimes committed every day – also stem from our public and political discourse.
The attack in Finsbury Park happened during a week that marks the one-year anniversary of the Brexit vote, which has enabled open racism and bigotry to manifest and take hold in a way not seen in the U.K. for decades.
According to a report in The Guardian, the rise in reported hate crimes since the Manchester and London terrorist attacks is different from the hate crime recorded post-Brexit, a police source told the newspaper. "After the Brexit vote, hate crime against East Europeans and visible ethnic minorities increased, while after the atrocities in Manchester and London, the attacks are directed just against those perceived by bigots to be Muslims, numerically a smaller group than those bearing the brunt last summer." It is clear how the profile of hate mirrors the public discourse and agenda.
The attack at Finsbury Park joins a growing list of disturbing attacks in the U.K. It will only come as a surprise to those who are not paying attention, intentionally or unintentionally, to the mounting catalogue of hate crimes.