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My father was murdered by a terrorist weeks before Lee Rigby. You've probably never heard of him

My father was an 82-year-old British Muslim murdered by a neo-Nazi. Where is the outrage at terrorism against British Muslims?

Four years ago in England, my 82-year-old father, Mohammed Saleem, was walking home from the mosque in Small Heath, Birmingham, down the road he had lived on for more than 30 years, when he was stabbed three times from behind and murdered. 

I feel appalled that every time there is an act of terrorism in the UK and Europe, my father's murder barely gets a mention

Pavlo Lapshyn, a Ukrainian neo-Nazi who had been in the UK less than a week, had followed my father home, allegedly targeting him because he was brown and dressed like a Muslim.

My father was educated and very political, especially when it came to Pakistani politics. He worked as a baker when he arrived in the UK in the 1950s. He was also a trade unionist. He worked extremely hard: he did double and triple shifts at the bakery to feed his family and he gave more than he ever received.

There are millions like my father - Irish, Russian, Jewish, Eastern European - who have all come here to work and to seek a better life for their families. This country has been nourished and built by immigrants and we must never ever forget that.

But we must also not forget that racism has always played the role of dividing people, and we should oppose it. 

This weekend marks the fourth anniversary of my father's terrorist murder. My personal experience of Islamophobia will live with me and my family for the rest of our lives. It will remind us what happens when hatred in society goes unchallenged and people who hate are not stopped.

Lingering questions

As soon as Lapshyn entered the country, he embarked on a campaign of terror and murder.

Within five days of entering Britain, he had his hands on a hunting knife which he used to stab my father to death. He then planted explosives outside three mosques in the West Midlands. He later came to be known as "The Tipton Bomber".

Pavlo Lapshyn in 2013 (AFP)
Why, given his history as a fascist, did the British embassy in Ukraine support his application to come to a UK area densely populated with Muslims?

Why, given his history as a fascist, did the British embassy in Ukraine support Lapshyn's application to come to a UK area densely populated with Muslims?

Surely, these facts merited a closer look from the government in exactly the same way they spent time, energy and resources on investigating the murder of Lee Rigby. Theresa May is screening Muslims coming in and out of the country with the Counter Terrorism and Security Act. How is it that neo-Nazis are let through? 

Lapshyn is now serving 40 years for my father's murder and for plotting three mosque bombings in the West Midlands – all acts of terrorism. He was charged under terrorism laws. Yet, to this day, the media, the police and the government have not treated him as they would if the terrorist was a Muslim.

Deafening silence

When Lee Rigby was murdered - three weeks after my dad - his murder received global news coverage and cries of protest. But my father's brutal murder on the street, in a similar attack, received comparatively little attention.

Crowds look on as the hearse carrying the coffin of British Fusilier Lee Rigby arrives at Bury Parish Church in Bury, northwest England for a vigil on the eve of his funeral on 11 July 2013 (AFP)
Instead of loud and heartfelt condemnation from politicians and the police, instead of hashtags and long discussions about the danger of neo-Nazi beliefs in our society, there was deafening silence. A Muslim terrorist, on the other hand, would certainly have led to conversations about the dangers of radical Islamism.

We do not equate all white people with this terrorist, but then why are all Muslims treated as potential terrorists?

Similarly, there was little media reporting following the case of 81-year-old Muhsin Ahmed who was punched, kicked and stamped on the head - which led to his death - as he walked to his mosque in Rotherham for morning prayers on 10 August 2015. 

My father and my family are Muslims and, like Muhsin Ahmed and his family, we are also the victims of terrorism. 

Quite rightly, we do not equate all white people with this terrorist, but then why are all Muslims treated as potential terrorists?

Inaccuracy and double standards

I feel appalled that every time there is an act of terrorism in the UK and Europe, my father barely gets a mention and neither do the three mosque bombings in the West Midlands.

I have gone back and forth with the complaints department at the BBC, which continually describes my father's murder as a "far-right attack" rather than an act of terrorism. Lapshyn was charged under the Section 5 of the Terrorism Act 2006, so an accurate description of what he did would be "far-right terrorist attack".

Inaccurate descriptions of my father's murder show a callous indifference to my family's suffering. I pointed this out to the BBC because I want to prevent other families in such circumstances from being ignored or rejected. We need narratives that allow black, white, Muslims, Christians and Jews to live together, rather than reinforcing negative and inaccurate stereotypes.

As a Muslim, I am tired of Muslims condemning attacks being carried out by so-called Muslims. No one condemned my father's brutal terrorist murder or the three mosque bombings, but I clearly remember Muslims attending Theresa May's Cobra meetings for Lee Rigby. No such Cobra meetings were held for my dear father.

Islamophobia fuelling war

Since my father's passing, I have been an active campaigner on racism and Islamophobia, standing up to both on a daily basis and speaking on many high-profile platforms.

But no platform is as high-profile as those offered to our prime minister, Theresa May, who was awarded the "Islamophobe of the year" award by the Islamic Human Rights Commission in 2015.

Her rise to the position of prime minister is hardly a cause for celebration if you're a British Muslim. She has used Islamophobia and an anti-refugee stance to get where she is today.

But even beyond May, anti-Muslim rhetoric and bigotry have been the main factor fuelling the so-called "War on Terror" for more than 15 years. And the demonisation of Muslims and Islam has been used to its full extent by the US and UK mainstream media to justify the bombings of Muslim countries.

Break the pattern

Four years on since dad's brutal terrorist murder, Islamophobia burns through the world right now. Look at France, where fascist Marine Le Pen recently received 21 percent of the vote just behind Emmanuel Macron, who received 24 percent.

Of course, if we add up the candidates whom French voters preferred to Le Pen, it is nearly 80 percent. The question really is how she won 2.8 million more votes than her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who stood for the Front National in 2002. In total, more than 7 million voted for a fascist, Islamophobic racist.

A worker cleans the billboards near the campaign posters of French presidential election candidate for the far-right Front National (FN) party Marine Le Pen and of En Marche ! movement Emmanuel Macron on 28 April 2017 in Cessales near Toulouse, southern F
We see a similar pattern in America. Donald Trump became president by taking advantage of people's economic security and fears, using racism and Islamophobia as a scapegoat for economic insecurity. This has led people with links to the Ku Klux Klan to have direct access to the White House. The holocaust denials and the Muslim ban have further added to the demonisation of the "other".

Islamophobia needs to stop. We need to challenge politicians across the globe with their blatant racist rhetoric towards Muslims, migrants and refugees.

Muslims are enduring intense discrimination in everyday life at the hands of the media and through government policy. It is our duty as Muslims to understand not just religious issues, but also the political situation facing our community.

We must speak out against Islamophobia and get actively involved in campaigning to ensure a better, humane and peaceful world for future generations. 

- Maz Saleem is an anti-war and anti–racist campaigner and has written for a variety of publications including the Independent, 5Pillars, Counterfire and Stop the War Coalition websites. Maz will be launching an educational website addressing Islamophobia in memory of her father, Education for Peace in remembrance of Mohammed Saleem.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Mohammed Saleem with his wife, Said Begum (Saleem Family)

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