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Unrest in UK Hindu and Muslim Communities After Violence Erupts in Leicester

Tensions in the UK’s Hindu and Muslim communities are once again at boiling point after weeks of religiously-stoked violence and provocations in the city of Leicester.


 


Historically, Hindu-Muslim violence is rare in the UK – especially in Leicester, which is particularly known for its harmonious multiculturality and strong sense of community cohesion.


 


However, issues began when India beat arch-rival Pakistan in an Asia Cup cricket match in Dubai on August 28. After India's win, reports emerged that a large group took to Melton Road, marching and allegedly shouting, “Pakistan Murdabad” (Death to Pakistan).


 


Sunny Hundal, a journalist and commentator who has written for The Independent, The Guardian, and Hindustan Times, described – first on Twitter and then in an article for The New Statesman – how videos began to circulate days later via British Hindu WhatsApp groups of men attacking property and people in Hindu-majority areas. When the messages spread around WhatsApp claiming that Muslim gangs were responsible for these acts of violence, Hindus reportedly began to say that mobilisation was necessary to protect Hindu areas and households in Leicester.


 


On Saturday 17 September, a crowd of men marched into Leicester, with some shouting, “Jai Shri Ram” (Hail Lord Ram), a cry that has become a rallying call for Hindu nationalist mobs and perpetrators of anti-Muslim violence in India.


 


In turn, extremist Muslim ‘activists’ have also been mobilising and stoking conflict with anti-Hindu rhetoric. One such figure is Mohammed Hijab, a ‘popular YouTuber’ and radical Islamic ‘scholar’, who has a history of hate speech and antisemitic attacks. In Leicester, Mr Hijab went on a tirade, in which he cried, “If they [Hindus] believe in reincarnation, what a humiliation of them to be reincarnated into some pathetic, weak, cowardly people like that.” He carried on, saying, “Hindutva, you are trying to act like gangsters…Don’t ever come out like that again. Do you understand? Are they going to come out again?”. Mr Hijab has previously been accused of inciting antisemitism after filming himself – in Golders Green, an area in north London known for its large Jewish population – with a placard which read: “Did we not learn from the Holocaust?’ He also questioned Jewish passers-by about Israel.


 


The climax to the violence in Leicester last weekend was the vandalism of a Hindu temple.


 


So far, Leicestershire police have arrested 47 individuals, most of whom are in their teens and 20s, and are facing charges such as possession of offensive weapons or firearms, violent disorder and making threats to kill. Claudia Webbe, MP for Leicester East, and city mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, have both pointed to social media and misinformation as key catalysts.


 


“Much of this violence and hate is being shared on social media and through online communications. It is racism and fascism and it is rearing its ugly head. It is a national problem that requires a national response by the police and other agencies,” Webbe told The Guardian.


 


“The social media firms – TikTok and Twitter and WhatsApp – are the mediums that are being used and they should bear some responsibility.”


 


Local religious leaders from both Hindu and Muslim communities have widely condemned the outbreak of violence. In a joint statement read and made outside of Leicester’s ISKCON temple, Pradyumna Das – the president of the temple – reminded members of the harmony that had existed between Hindus and Muslim in Leicester for over half a century, categorically rebuking those who were attempting to, “sow disharmony between us.” Das then called for the, “sanctity of religious places, both mosques, and mandirs alike,” to be respected, adding lastly that in Leicester there was, “no place for any foreign extremist ideology that causes division.”


 


Some are fearing that the violence and provocations may spread beyond the city. Already, around 100 people in protest encircled the Durga Bhawan Temple in Smethwick, West Midlands, on the evening of September 20.


 


Commenting on the violence in Leicester and Hindu-Muslim relations more generally, Sunny Hundal and Gurharpal Singh, an emeritus professor of Sikh and Punjab studies at SOAS University of London and visiting fellow at the University at Leicester, have both remarked how the influence of, “homeland politics” – and the successful call to mobilise the vast Indian diaspora in support of the BJP and its commitment to “Hindus first” ideology– may have further fuelled these tensions and outbreaks of violence.


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