This video is circulating of a visibly Muslim male who was walking along a busy Camden High street which leads to Regent’s Park mosque. The video was taken between 12 – 1:30 pm yesterday and just prior to Juma’ah prayers which is a key prayer time observed by many Muslims. The video shows a female who explains that her suspicions were raised because the individual was wearing layers of clothing. In this case, her suspicions would not have been raised if the man was not visibly Muslim. In this instance, his beard sent out a signal to the woman that he was Muslim.
The woman can be heard to take an aggressive tone towards the man filming her and the only person being agitated is the female who seems to have initially flagged down the police officers in Central London. There is a suggestion that the man was running and the camera person makes clear that he was going to the mosque for his prayers and the suspect does not resist, looks shocked and bewildered. No doubt, this video will have impacts on some within Muslim communities. The strong impression given by the video is that Muslims are stopped because of the fears of some who see a visible Muslim acting in ways that they find to be ‘beyond the norm’, as being potentially dangerous. In this case, ‘beyond the norm’ was a man with a beard wearing layers of clothing and who was probably walking at a faster pace.
There is something troubling about the woman’s perceptions. The place to challenge them was not when the officer’s were undertaking the search and the officer’s were, as the man filming says, simply doing their job. The real issue is how a Londoner comes to regard another Londoner as a potential threat in relation to his visibility as a Muslim and whilst wearing two layers of clothing.
Such incidents do nothing to bring communities together. They also show how much work needs to be done to challenge the fears of some people that visible Muslims are somehow a threat if they wear more layers of clothing than others on a hot day. The reality is that some Muslims will naturally wear more layers of clothing, even on a hot day, since they believe it is a manifestation of their faith to cover their bodies.
We understand the real risk to us all from extremism and violent extremism. We have raised our voices time and time again against these threats, whether they be far right or Daesh influenced. But the fears of one woman, who was the person being the most challenging in this video, cannot just be left unchecked as she walks off and the individual going to pray is left feeling confused and frightened by the experience. Londoners deserve better and in the fight against extremism and terrorism, we cannot turn against each other on the basis of visibility and clothing. The woman in this video may feel she was doing her duty and we can understand that and applaud her civic sense of responsibility. However, we cannot accept the basis of her fears and the assumptions she makes by also including the camera-person as another potential suspect and by her belief that a few layers of clothing and a beard mean that someone is potentially a threat. Surely we all deserve better than this?
The fight against extremism and violent extremism needs to be intelligence led. It needs to be based on evidence and on ensuring that sections of populations do not feel marginalised. Such incidents merely fracture trust between communities and we understand the difficulties in the fight against terrorism, but this does not help.The police do a sterling job on a daily basis, however the woman in this video needs to understand that having a beard and wearing layers of clothing do not make someone a natural suspect.