Survivors of UK terror attacks warn: ‘Don’t equate Muslims with extremists’ 

Open letter signed by families of victims including Manchester Arena bombing says debate ‘must not play into terrorists’ hands’

Jon Ungoed-Thomas

Sun 10 Mar 2024

More than 50 survivors of terrorist attacks, including the Manchester Arena bombing and the London Bridge attacks, have signed an open letter warning politicians to stop conflating British Muslims with extremism.

The signatories include Rebecca Rigby, the widow of soldier Lee Rigby who was murdered in south-east London in 2013, and Paul Price, who lost his partner, Elaine McIver, in the Manchester Arena attack in 2017. They caution against comments which play “into the hands of terrorists”.

Survivors of terrorist atrocities in the UK and overseas driven by Islamic extremism say they are “only too aware” of the threat and its devastating impact. They say fighting and defeating the threat should be a national priority.

The open letter, coordinated by Survivors Against Terror, a network of survivors of attacks in Britain and British people who have been affected overseas, says: “To defeat this threat the single most important thing we can do is to isolate the extremists and the terrorists from the vast majority of British Muslims who deplore such violence.

“In recent weeks there have been too many cases where politicians and others have failed to do this; in some cases equating being Muslim with being an extremist, facilitating anti-Muslim hate or failing to challenge it.”

The former Conservative party deputy chair Lee Anderson was suspended from the party after refusing to apologise for remarks about London mayor Sadiq Khan made on GB News. His comments that the mayor was under the control of Islamists were criticised by the Labour party as “unambiguously Islamophobic”.

Former home secretary Suella Braverman faced criticism after writing an article in the Telegraph last month which said “the Islamists, the extremists and the anti-Semites are in charge now”.

Humza Yousaf, first minister of Scotland, warned Braverman was stoking “the fires of racial and religious tensions”.

Paul Price, who was badly injured in the Manchester Arena attack in May 2017, said terrorists exploited division, and politicians should focus on what unites communities. “Terrorists want people to take sides and for people to get angry,” he said. “It should be everyone against the terrorists.”

Rebecca Rigby, from West Yorkshire, whose husband Lee was murdered near a barracks in May 2013, said: “Lee’s death was used by some to drive hatred against Muslims in general. That’s not what Lee would have wanted and it’s not what our family wants.

“If we are serious about tackling terrorism the most important thing we can do is differentiate between the vast majority of Muslims who are our peaceful neighbours, and the small number of extremists.”

Darryn Frost, who used a narwhal tusk to help tackle the terrorist behind the London Bridge attack in 2019, said: “I think it’s dangerous when any of our leaders marginalise communities and paint a very broad brush. People need to consider the power of their words because they have the power to incite further hatred.”

The letter is published in advance of the fifth anniversary, on 15 March, of the far-right terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which 51 people were killed. The letter’s signatories stress the importance of not fuelling anti-Muslim hate.

Brendan Cox, co-founder of Survivors Against Terror, has warned of the risk of politicising extremism.

“Anyone using the issue to seek tactical party advantage risks undermining that consensus and making our efforts less successful,” he said. “The message from survivors of attacks is clear: you can play politics all you like, but not with the safety of our country.”

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