Are Muslim women safe on Britain’s public transport?

Mrs Begum was called a "Paki" and a "ninja". The woman in this picture is not Mrs Begum. [Image: BPM Media]

Police have launched an investigation after a Muslim woman was attacked on her way home by six men who hailed racist and Islamophobic abuse and threats of violence at her in a train full of passengers.

Lilly Begum, 30, was travelling alone on her way back home last Saturday at 3.55pm from West Croydon to London Bridge. She was on the phone to her mother speaking Bengali when six white men entered the train.

According to Mrs Begum, the men began a torrent of racist and Islamophobic abuse, calling her a “Paki” and a “ninja” and demanded that she “speak English you foreigner”. Threats of violence were also made: “we’ll chop your head off and chuck you out at the next stop you f*****g Paki ninja.”

The torment continued for 13 minutes in a train full of people, all of whom decided not to intervene. Mrs Begum responded once she realised no one was coming to her defence. Three of the men backed off once she spoke out against them whilst the others continued the abuse.

PC Alexandra O’Leary from British Transport Police said: “During the journey the victim was speaking on her phone in a foreign language, when a group of men launched a torrent of foul and racist language towards her including threats of violence. This was understandably an incredibly distressing incident for the victim, who challenged the men’s behaviour.

“Anti-social, racist or violent behaviour has no place on the railway and passengers should feel able to use the network without fear of becoming a victim of crime. Anyone who witnessed the incident, or who has any information about what took place, should get in touch.”

The men involved are described as white and aged between 30 to 50 years old. Anyone with information call British Transport Police on 0800 40 50 40 or text 61016 quoting B5/LSA, or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

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5Pillars asked Mrs Begum some important questions and words of advice for Muslim women who may find themselves in a similar situation.

What are your views on the passengers who remained silent whilst you were being abused?

What angered me was the fact that they (passengers) were happy to video the incident, but what would that achieve? Nothing. The fact that the passengers remained silent encouraged me to challenge the perpetrators. If I sat back and accepted their abuse, I could certainly say that this would happen over and over again to other Muslims going about their own business. I would encourage other Muslim females, to stand up to such abuse; we should not succumb to the stereotype that the media portrays us to be – weak and without opinion; oppressed by Islam.

Who or what do you think is responsible for these kinds of Islamophobic attacks?

The media and the government have been very influential in shaping the views of British society. The government and the media work in unison and I feel they are partially if not fully responsible due to their sustained efforts to demonise aspects of Islam in particular the position of Muslim women. We cannot ignore the fact that in recent times there has been a rise in these Islamophobic attacks. I have been living in London for three years now, this is the third Islamophobic attack I have experienced, and on every occasion no one came to my defence.

The media has defined Muslim women to be sufferers of Islam, being down casted by “extreme” Shariah law – discouraging their voice and opinion. The truth is that the same Muslim woman is attacked, harassed and abused by members of public in the UK with no one to support her. One of the perpetrators said,“You’re in our country. You need to dress like us.”  What is the objective meaning behind this? It is clear. It was a personal attack on me for being “different” and for being “overtly” Muslim. The Equality and Diversity Act defines the values of society. It is meant to promote equality of opportunity for all, providing every individual the chance to achieve their potential, free from prejudice and discrimination. Yet this is not a common practice of the society we live in due to the hate-breeding narrative of Muslims presented by the media.

Are Muslim women who adhere to the Islamic dress code safe to travel on public transport?

A Muslim woman is not safe anywhere unless she is in the comfort of her own home. That is not to say she should be confined to the house by abandoning work, studying and so on. I would advise Muslim women to be confident in challenging the ignorant members of this society. We are attacked in order to provoke a reaction, to intimidate us and to silence us. It is a mechanism used to put doubt in our fundamental belief in Islam. Muslim women should be vocal whilst ensuring they are safe in doing so.

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