Content warning: Islamophobia, racism, misogyny, strong language
Two Muslim students at the University of Edinburgh were allegedly attacked for their faith on campus last week, The Student has learned, as part of a rising trend of Islamophobic attacks across the country.
The students were spat on and shouted at with racist epithets, according to a University of Edinburgh history lecturer who was approached by the students after the attack.
Immediately following the spitting attack, the pair were reportedly called “motherfucking terrorist whores”, the lecturer, Dr Talat Ahmed, told The Student.
The incident is alleged to have taken place in George Square. Dr Ahmed described the students as dark-skinned, with one wearing a traditional garment to symbolise her faith.
“Two students have come to see me,” she told The Student. “One who wears a hijab, and one who doesn’t, but both of them with brown skin.
“Both of them have been spat at on this campus and told that they were ‘motherfucking terrorist whores’. And they came to see me because obviously they were very upset. They wanted a female academic [to speak to].”
The incident could not be immediately verified by The Student. Dr Ahmed declined to provide names of the victims, citing safety and privacy concerns for the students involved.
It was unconfirmed whether other steps had been taken to report the behaviour, but a spokesperson for the university said Tuesday that no report had been made.
“Neither the University nor Police Scotland have received any reports of such an incident, but we would urge anyone who has any concerns to raise them with an appropriate member of staff as soon as possible,” the spokesperson said.
“Any reports of such incidents will be treated seriously and sensitively. The safety and well-being of our students and staff is paramount and we will always offer every support to anyone who wishes to pursue a complaint.”
Speaking on the allegations, Shuwanna Aaron, Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Convener at Edinburgh University Students Association (EUSA) told The Student: “This attack has furthered my anxieties about the safety of Muslims on campus and in the wider community.
“There are real concerns for safety in the wake of the Paris attacks and Islamophobic retaliations seen across the UK this week.”
Aaron added that the BME group that she heads would work with EUSA to address the issue head on.
“Both the University and EUSA have a duty to protect students and so need to take a hard line approach to tackling Islamophobia,” she said.
“My priorities at the moment are to make contact with the victims so that a system of support can be created according to their needs.
“The BME group then hopes to meet with the sabbs and members of the Islamic society to discuss what should be done to make Muslim students safe on campus and to plan long term actions against Islamophobia.”
Reacting to the allegations, Esti Zaid, president of the Islamic Society of the University of Edinburgh, described “a sense of horror and sadness that even within an academic environment attacks due to ignorance can happen.”
Zaid said her society had already taken action to address the issue with its members. Last Tuesday, the group met to discuss the attacks in Paris and the reactions they had experienced on campus. Islamophobia was among the issues discussed.
“Our biggest priority now is to ensure that Muslim students feel completely safe not only on campus but in Edinburgh, and that they are aware of the steps they should take should they experience any Islamophobia,” Zaid told The Student.
The alleged attack is part of a wave of Islamophobic incidents across Scotland in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris on November 13.
A mosque in Bishopbriggs, Glasgow was torched last Tuesday, which Police Scotland later confirmed as a deliberate hate crime. The building is used as both a mosque and a general cultural centre for the community.
Humza Yousaf, Minister for Europe and International Development, received numerous messages calling for his resignation and threatening his safety across social media forums on the weekend of the attacks. Police Scotland’s Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone confirmed last Monday that arrests had been made.
The violence has spread to less well-known members of the Scottish community as well.
On November 15, Mohammad Khalid, owner of Caspian Fast Food, a takeaway restaurant in Fife, was attacked by a mob of 15-20 men outside his establishment. Khalid was hospitalised for his injuries, but his condition has since stabilised.
His daughter, Shama Khalid, posted a video on Facebook of the attack, taken from the restaurant’s CCTV footage, with a statement reading: “This is so upsetting. I hope no one has to witness anything like this ever. They spent all their lives trying to protect us from things like this, only to become victims themselves. ”
Scottish politicians and officials have been emphatic in their opposition to the trend.
The morning after the attacks, Police Scotland made a statement that it “will not tolerate any form of hate crime”, and that they urge everyone across the UK to “continue working together to ensure that no one feels threatened or marginalised.”
In a speech made in response to the Paris attacks, Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of the Scottish Parliament and Leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) said: “There is absolutely no place for bigotry and prejudice in Scotland and this government is clear that any form of hate crime is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated in 21st Century Scotland.”
Responding to the wave of hate crime, Emeline Javierre, Deputy French Consul in Edinburgh, told The Student: “It just goes to show that stupidity has no borders.”
“I think the answer is social cohesion, but the way to get to that is not clear.”
Dr Ahmed has witnessed the rising number of incidents in various urban areas of the country. But it was not until she heard the stories of the Edinburgh students in her office that the extent of the problem became clear.
“That’s what really alerted me,” she told The Student. “I thought, this isn’t just happening in Glasgow and Fife.
“The fact that it can happen on a liberal campus like this is disturbing to say the least.”
The alleged attacks are part of a broader pattern of subtle anti-Islamic behaviour on campus, according to Muslim students. Writing for The Student‘s Comment section, Shaliz Navab spoke of experiences of suspicious looks, judgements, and uncomfortable rhetoric among the student bodies, which she said many of her friends had experienced.
“Beyond the subtle Islamophobia that these students are facing on a daily basis is an internalized struggle,” Navab wrote.
“The reality is that no matter how shocked, devastated and upset these students feel about the occurrences in Paris, there is still an element of unqualified guilt, finger-pointing and pressure on them to defend themselves and their faith in situations like these.”
Members of the University of Edinburgh Chaplaincy have voiced their concern.
“It is absolutely unacceptable for anyone to exploit these tragic events to unleash hatred upon Muslims or others who are equally horrified at bloodshed and terrorism,” Imam Sohaib Saeed, Muslim Chaplain, told The Student.
“It is the clear aim of groups like ISIS to set communities against each other, so we must respond with greater solidarity and compassion.”
Harriet Harris, Head of the Chaplaincy told The Student: “We don’t want anyone to be made to feel more vulnerable than they might already be feeling.
“I’ve had some concerns expressed to me that people who are Muslim or Asian, or look like they might be Muslim, are getting strange looks from people, are feeling more vulnerable, so we’re concerned about that.”
According to Dr Khadijah Elshayyal, Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, factors such as media bias and opportunism are among the causes behind the rise of Islamophobia in the UK.
“There have been numerous studies to show how overwhelmingly negative media reporting of Muslims has been,” she told The Student. “Other factors include the far right capitalisation of current issues in society to demonise Muslims.”
“I don’t think people are inherently intolerant,” she added.
“[But] with not enough interaction between and within the communities…it becomes fertile ground for prejudice and intolerance.”
For Dr Ahmed, the motivations are clear.
“It’s quite interesting how they appear to pick on vulnerable individuals. It’s easy for them to pick on two young undergraduate students as they’re walking down across George Square […] but they don’t have the courage of their convictions to get up in a [public space] and express their views,” she told The Student.
“It really demonstrates their cowardice.”
Reporting contributed by Rosie Barrett.