'If He Had a Beard He'd Be Called a Terrorist': London Muslims Decry Double Standards After Mosque Attack

'This is an atrocity that hurts all of us. If London stands together, we shall prevail,' says local

People take part in a vigil at Finsbury Park in north London, where a vehicle struck pedestrians in north London Monday, June 19, 2017.
Frank Augstein/AP

An hour before the vigil in memory of the victim of the attack at the Finsbury Park Mosque in London, the Metropolitan Police identified the attacker as Darren Osborne, from Cardiff in Wales.

Late on Sunday night, Osborne ran a van he allegedly rented from a company in Wales into a crowd of Muslim worshippers just out of the Ramadan evening prayer and the meal that ends the fast for the day. Eyewitnesses said he shouted “kill all the Muslims.”

Ten people were wounded in the attack, and one man, who was already laying on the sidewalk getting first aid after he collapsed for an unknown reason, was killed. It is unclear as to yet whether the cause of his death was the attack or a different condition which caused his collapse.

It now emerges that Osborne, who is not known to the police, threatened to hurt Muslims on Saturday night while at a pub in Cardiff.

The strongest sentiment in Finsbury Park on Monday was a sense of insult. Many expressed anger at the way some of the media covered the attack. The attacker was portrayed as a “lone wolf” and “possibly mentally ill.”

“If he had a beard they’d have immediately called him a terrorist, and if he was a Muslim they’d have arrested all other Muslims around, like they did in Manchester,” said Abdusalem Ahmad, a worshiper in his 20s, who prayed at the neighboring mosque across the road on Monday night.

The fact that the attacker was described in some media as “a bald white man’” raised extra anger. “They wanted to brand him as a radical skinhead, put him in a radical’s box as if "he is rare and crazy,” said Yousef. “The fact is, he had a full head of hair."

Both locals compared the attitude to Sunday night’s attack to the coverage of the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox a year ago. “It was a ‘lone wolf' then too. How come that they kill one of us it is always a lone wolf? Jo Cox was not a Muslim but she was one of us, one of the good people who wanted a better country,” said Ahmad.

The Daily Mail reported that Osborne, a 47-year-old father of four, was thrown out of a pub on Saturday night after threatening to hurt Muslims.

The mosque's imam, Mohammed Mahmoud, protected the attacker from the furious crowd until the police took Osborne into custody. The imam told Sky News how a panicked worshipper ran in and told him about the attack. The imam ran into the busy London junction, connecting the boroughs of Islington, Haringey and Hackney, and prevented the upset crowd from touching the man.

“All life is sacred’” he explained. He later told the BBC, “we should now strive to keep the fabric of society and this community of London intact."

That mission would land in the lap of the Prime Minister Theresa May, who is laboring to put together her new minority government. After being criticized earlier for her conduct during a fire that ravaged through a London building, May rushed to Finsbury Park to meet leaders of the Muslim community in the mosque.

May said the attack was "every bit as sickening as the previous attacks. It was an attack that once again targeted the ordinary and the innocent going about their daily lives, this time British Muslims, as they left a mosque having broken their fast and prayed together at this sacred time of year," she said.

She said that "there has been far too much tolerance of extremism over many years," adding that "it is a reminder that terrorism, extremism and hatred take many forms; and our determination to tackle them must be the same whoever is responsible."

May was received politely and was spared the accusations she suffered in West London while visiting the Grenfell Tower fire site. However, here too, the hero’s welcome was spared for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who lives near the mosque and has been representing the borough of Islington in Parliament for decades.

“She came with a motorcade gave the elders some rehearsed lines, and off she went,” said local resident Abed al-Rahman Yousef. “Jeremy was already here twice, we all know him. She could probably hear the cheers for him all the way back in Westminster.”

Residents of Islington, Haringey and Hackney, Muslims and non-Muslims, flocked to the spot of the attack, just under the rail bridge on Seven Sisters Road, to express solidarity. Many laid flowers under the bridge, others brought them to the neighboring mosque.

Andrew Clifford arrived from the nearby neighborhood of Crouch End carrying flowers and waited at the mosque’s door to deliver them to the imam.

“I’m Jewish, but I feel I’m a part of this community, of North London, of Finsbury Park. I came to give my condolences. This is an atrocity that hurts all of us. If London stands together, we shall prevail,” he said.

A group of Stand Up To Racism protesters stood under a sign by the mosque.

“We want the anti-racist voice to be heard loud and clear,” said writer Marilyn Moos. “The government portrays the Muslims as an enemy within. It is vital to stand by them at this time. We are one community.”

Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott of Labour called on Monday for increased security at mosques. The former head of National Counter Terrorism Security Office, Chris Phillips, who defined the attacker as “mad, bad and sad”, said meanwhile that “we can’t defend every mosque and every group of people on a pavement.”