The violence that unfolded in Leicester in the late summer of 2022 was undoubtedly tragic, especially for the local South Asian communities who have shared the city for decades.
The events reportedly began on 28 August 2022, following India’s victory over Pakistan in a cricket match, when Indian fans marched down Leicester’s Melton Road shouting “Pakistan murdabad!” (“Death to Pakistan!”).
Anti-Muslim slogans were chanted. A Sikh man was physically attacked. In an overt display of intimidation, a group of Hindu men marched through Green Lane Road, aggresively chanting “Jai Shri Ram!” (“Hail Lord Ram!”), while men scaled the walls of a Hindu religious organization in plain sight of the police. The incidents led to nearly 50 arrests.
The situation was exacerbated by notorious provocateur, YouTuber Mohammed Hijab.
Hijab, who has a track record of vocal antisemitism, was filmed in Leicester a few days before the events in question, addressing a group of Muslim men: “If they [Hindus] believe in reincarnation, what a humiliation of them to be reincarnated into some pathetic, weak, cowardly people like that.”
In a video that circulated on Twitter, a local Muslim man can be heard telling him to “Put the mic down! … You’re an inciter; you are only going to make things worse! … Show some restraint! … Leave it!”
This is the approach people should take to Mohammed "We Love Death" Hijab. Leicester Muslims show us all how to do it. "Leave it!" pic.twitter.com/Z7jKvS2hx0
— habibi (@habibi_uk) October 7, 2022
However, Hijab’s antics did not prevent the mainstream Channel 4 News from choosing him as the spokesman for Muslim youth in Leicester. (This was not the only time Hijab, who claims to “love death” has received prime airtime on a national media outlet.)
Hijab is not the first provocateur to be promoted by the mainstream media outlet such as BBC. The Islamist Anjem Choudary was rejected by many Muslims in his local community in Luton, but constantly boosted by the British media.
He later became a recruiter for ISIS, influencing an unknown number of impressionable young people. Sadly, the media seems to have learned nothing from that experience.
The BBC should stop enabling ideologues like Choudary and Hijab, whose extremist rhetoric is designed to sow fear and insecurity among British Muslims and who promote bullying and intimidation tactics to shut down speech of which they disapprove, such as a lesson on free speech or the screening of a “blasphemous” film.
Some media pundits regard the violent disorder in Leicester as the result of sectarianism imported from India and Pakistan. They are wrong. The growth of both Hindutva and Islamism in the UK is fuelled by British pandering to sectarian extremism.
Coverage of the events was often one-sided. A researcher from the Henry Jackson Society told GB News that several Hindu families had left Leicester due to threats of violence from Muslims—though Leicester Police denied that any such threats had been reported. The researcher omitted to mention the violence of Hindutva supporters.
On the other hand, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) issued a press release condemning “the targeting of Muslim communities in Leicester by far-right Hindutva groups”—but conveniently neglected to condemn the Muslim extremists who were equally responsible for inflaming the situation.
In doing so, the MCB, as so often, failed to distinguish between extremists and ordinary local Muslims, who have lived alongside their fellow Hindus peacefully for decades. Many of these people, both Hindus and Muslims, unequivocally condemned the extremists on both sides, who have been responsible for intimidating street marches and inflammatory social media posts.
This is not the first time local people have stood up to religious bullies, without receiving any effective support from the government.
When Muslim fundamentalists gathered outside Batley Grammar School in June 2021, attempting to bully the administration into compliance with their demands that they punish a teacher who showed a class an image of Mohammed, a group of local Muslim women wrote an open letter condemning their “shameful” behaviour. Tellingly, these women had to remain anonymous because of safety concerns. And their words fell on deaf ears.
Britain has a longstanding and honourable tradition of diversity. We must tolerate the existence of a wide variety of views, including those characterised by religious bigotry. But we need to stop appeasing extremist groups by treating them as if they were legitimate representatives of British Muslims.
British Muslims are not a homogenous bloc. Nor do self-proclaimed “community leaders” (often religious extremists) speak for them. If the peaceful coexistence that has characterized British cultural diversity at its best is to survive, we urgently need to stop apologising for sectarian extremism.