Leicester: Muslim women who wear veils suffer rise in hostility and abuse

Muslim women who wear face veils say they are seeing a rising tide of hostility and abuse because of the way they dress. Women spoke out as police reported a sharp rise in crimes, ranging from verbal abuse to physical attacks, against Muslims in the past year.

Two women who wear the niqab, a veil which leaves only the eyes showing, said Leicester had become more “hostile” since the French Government said it planned to ban the garment and the burka, which covers the entire body.

The women also believe publicity surrounding Conservative MP Philip Hollobone’s decision to refuse to meet constituents wearing veils had deepened public hostility.

Mr Hollobone, an MP in Northamptonshire, also attempted to introduce a private member’s bill in the House of Commons to pave the way for a law similar to that being considered in France.

One of the women, a 29-year-old from Leicester’s Clarendon Park, said: “There is a more hostile than usual atmosphere at the moment. I have been called names like ”Taliban” and ”terrorist” and one man, who was drunk in the middle of the day, told me to go back to where I came from.

“I just want to live my life in accordance with my faith, I don’t see what harm I am doing by wearing the niqab.

“People talk about women who wear these garments being outside of society in some way. I was born and brought up in this country and don’t want to live anywhere else. I have been to university and I have a well-paid job, I live by the law and I love my family. How am I not taking part in society?”

Another woman, aged 32, from Evington, Leicester, said: “Women are saying that they feel intimidated by some of the comments they hear in the media or in the street. There seems to be this feeling now that women who choose to dress this way are some kind of threat to the British way of life.”

Police in Leicester have seen the number of cases of Muslims being verbally abused or physically assaulted rise in the past year. Between April 2008 and March 2009, officers in the city recorded 25 offences. In the following 12 months, it rose to 42.

Chief Inspector Bill Knopp, of Leicestershire police’s community safety unit, said: “Although the number of offences is relatively low, it’s the trend that concerns us. We cannot be sure whether that rise reflects greater public confidence and people are coming to us when these things happen to them or an actual rise in incidents. What I do know is that we are getting better at catching the offenders.”

Suleman Nagdi, spokesman for the Leicestershire Federation of Muslim Organisations, said meetings had taken place with police to discuss the recent incidents. He said: “The figures the police have only show the number of women who have come forward to tell them about their experiences. I fear there are others who have been abused in this way but have never told anyone about it. There is a debate going on, but calling people names in the street is never part of any debate.”

Leicestershire police have a new hate crime website: www.stamp-it-out.co.uk

Leicester Mercury, 22 July 2010