Helpless Muslim girl spat on and racially abused in Bristol city centre

Corn Street in Bristol city centre

A Muslim girl walking home from school through Bristol’s city centre was spat at and racially abused whilst no one intervened in her defence.

Now councillors in Bristol’s inner city ward where the 17-year-old girl lives say they fear there could be a backlash in Bristol if more “Islamophobic” incidents occur.

The girl, who has asked not to be named, was walking in the city centre along Corn Street wearing a headscarf when a man approached and started hurling insults at her. She tried to take the abuse in her stride, but the tirade got worse. The man began spitting in her face and all over her clothes and school bag.

The suspect was swearing and shouting insults against Islam and her supposed birth place – even though the girl was born in Bristol, has never lived outside the city and considers herself British.

Eventually the girl ran off and phoned her father who immediately came to pick her up. He took her to Trinity Road police station and made a formal complaint.

Lawrence Hill ward councillor Hibaq Jama, who has been supporting the family, said: “It was a cowardly thing to do, which totally humiliated the girl.

“One of the appalling aspects about this was that no one went to help the girl. I would like to think that most people who see a child being abused in public would do something, even if that is just call the police.”

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Ms Jama, Bristol’s first Somalian- born councillor, said the girl had been quiet and withdrawn since the incident and had suffered considerable emotional and psychological distress.

She said: “We’re talking about a very bright girl who was doing well with her A levels, who was outgoing, happy, friendly, who now is concerned about being alone in Bristol’s public places.

“She was picked on because she was wearing a headscarf. As if somehow wearing a headscarf ought to single someone out as a foreigner. This has lead to many of her friends who also wear headscarves to be worried about being alone in public.”

Ms Jama and fellow ward councillor Margaret Hickman are both hoping the incident is an isolated one.

But they are worried that an undercurrent of Islamophobic rhetoric and anti-immigrant sentiment is in danger of “ghettoising” multicultural communities, such as in Lawrence Hill, fuelled by revelations about young British Muslim men travelling to fight in Syria and Iraq.

Ms Jama said: “Violent acts on girls makes counter retribution of one kind or another more likely. The community has worked hard to ensure it hasn’t happened in this case but I am concerned that if more young girls are abused due to religion or race that it could make counter retribution a likely consequence. Bristol as a city, along with all the necessary agencies, needs to acknowledge and address this problem now.”

Mrs Hickman said: “It is a very deep and complex problem. I heard of a young Muslim boy being told by some others in the school playground that he couldn’t play with them because he was ‘different’.

“The boy is only six and it makes you wonder how this kind of thing will play out in the years to come.

“I was speaking to a resident the other day – a white woman – who was annoyed about a group of young Somalian men making a lot of noise late at night. She said, ‘I’m not a racist, I just don’t want the anti-social behaviour to continue’ but she’s afraid of doing anything because of the fear of being branded a racist.”

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