British Prime Minister Theresa May attended an interfaith meeting on Monday at the north London mosque where hours earlier a man had driven his van into a group of Muslim worshippers. It was a sign of the importance that the government is placing on easing communal tensions following the terror attack, which was carried out by a 47-year-old British man.
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Although May was heckled by angry bystanders as she left Finsbury Park mosque Monday afternoon, interfaith activist Rabbi Herschel Gluck described a “very positive, very realistic” discussion inside the mosque, at an event also attended by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick.
Commitments were made to step up security at Muslim centers and areas with a large Muslim population, including bringing in armed patrols, Gluck said. There was also a promise to clamp down on Islamophobia and anti-Islamic incitement.
“It was a very diverse group there, and we said that the Muslim community has the right to feel an integral part of British society and should have the same protection and the same care as any other community,” he said.
Gluck, a Stamford Hill rabbi who is also chair of the Muslim-Jewish Forum, added that he visited the site in the immediate aftermath of the attack, in order to show solidarity.
The anger, frustration and pain that many in the Muslim community felt over their vulnerability to an attack was very clear, he said. But he added he had also been “very deeply touched” by the positive way in which he and other Jewish well-wishers had been received.
“The vast majority of the Jewish community has shown tremendous sympathy for the Muslim community,” Gluck said. “We have come forward very clearly and unashamedly to show support, and the Muslim community recognizes and appreciates this.”
Indeed, despite tensions over events in the Middle East, relations between Britain’s near-300,000 Jews and 2.8 million Muslims tend to be cordial – not least because of the communities’ numerous common interests. Both have had to defend practices of religious slaughter, circumcision and their provision of faith schools in recent years.
Far more anti-Semitic incidents are identified as being perpetrated by far-right extremists than coming from Muslims.
“It’s not like in some European countries, where the local Jewish community say it’s predominately Muslims carrying out hate crimes,” said Dave Rich, deputy director of communications for the CST, the U.K. body that monitors threats to Anglo-Jewry.
The monitoring body Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) was set up with assistance from the CST, and the two organizations remain closely linked.
Rich said the model for what drives anti-Semitism – with clear spikes around conflicts involving Israel – was also applicable to Islamophobia.
“Parts of the media use narratives and language that inflame such sentiments,” said Rich. “We always encourage responsible use of language when discussing anti-Semitism, and the same should apply to the discussion of terrorism and Islamist extremism.”
The attack in Finsbury Park came just a day after numerous interfaith iftars [the meal breaking the daily fast during Ramadan] took place up and down the country, some as part of a national event to commemorate the late Labour MP Jo Cox, who was murdered by a right-wing extremist a year ago.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis hosted an iftar event at his own home on Sunday night, tweeting a picture that showed Orthodox Jews and Muslims mingling over a buffet table.
On Monday morning he tweeted, “Horrific attack at #finsburypark a painful illustration of why we must never allow hatred to breed hatred. Thoughts with all those affected.”
The Board of Deputies, Anglo-Jewry’s umbrella body, had also sent representatives to attend iftars the previous evening. Its president, Jonathan Arkush – who had been at London’s Big Iftar – condemned the Finsbury Park attack. “All good people must stand together and join in rejecting hatred and violence from wherever it comes. The way forward is to strengthen the moderate majority and repudiate and marginalise extremism of every type,” he said in a statement.
These public displays of solidarity play an important role in calming public feelings. With three jihadist attacks and now one anti-Muslim attack in the past three months, Rich said he saw no reason to expect the current wave of terror activity to die down.
“That’s why it is really important for people to pull together,” he said. “The fact that attacks are taking place is a sign that divisions exist.”