Maz Saleem looks back on the day she found out that her father had been murdered in an Islamophobic, racist terror attack and reflects on the double-standards and hypocrisy of the media and political class.
Today marks the 3rd anniversary of my father Mohammed Saleem’s brutal Islamophobic murder by neo-Nazi terrorist and mosque bomber Pavlo Lapshyn.
I will never forget the day I received the phone call from my sisters whilst I lay on my sofa in my London flat. Those horrifying words etched in my mind “Dad’s been stabbed” cried my sister Fazia on the phone. Seconds later came the next call, “Dad’s dead”, sobbed my eldest sister Shazia.
The shock and horror I felt at the time is still pretty hard to fathom today. I instantly packed my case and headed towards the Tube, in tears. I could not comprehend what I had just been told. Within an hour I was driving to Birmingham with Shazia and brother-in-law Hanif. The journey to Birmingham was in complete silence, mainly due to shock and sudden outbursts of tears. We could not understand – why?
We arrived at Heartlands hospital in the early hours of the morning. As you can imagine it is all a bit of a blur, but I remember running into the hospital, seeing the police presence and my sister explaining who we were. We were told to go into a special room at the hospital as hundreds of relatives and neighbours had occupied the hospital waiting rooms for hours, waiting on news of dad. That was testament to dad – a kind, loving man who spent most of his time with the neighbours, family and children.
The surgeon walked into this special room. He seemed very distraught. I remember him saying he had never seen such horrific injuries on an elderly man. At this point I couldn’t listen to any more. I left the room and sobbed outside the door. We were told by the police that we could not see dad, even though he was in the room in front of us because we could contaminate vital evidence with our breath.
The police at the hospital were not compassionate or sympathetic. They seemed quite cold and annoyed with the large number of people that had occupied the hospital waiting rooms. We had been told by family members dad’s attack happened around 10.20pm after Isha prayers.
He was singled out and murdered in Small Heath, Birmingham, on the very road he had lived on for over 30 years. The motive for his death was allegedly because he was brown and dressed like a Muslim. He was followed from the mosque by a Ukrainian neo-Nazi terrorist who had been in the country for less than a week. My father was then stabbed brutally three times from behind.
Pavlo Lapshyn, known for his racist and neo-Nazi activity in Ukraine, was given a work placement in Small Heath – an area densely populated by Muslims. As soon as he entered the country he embarked on a campaign of terror and murder. Lapshyn is now serving 40 years for my father’s murder and the three mosque bombings in the West Midlands – all acts of terrorism. He was charged under terrorism laws. Yet, to this day, the media, the police and the government have not treated Pavlo as they would if the terrorist were a Muslim.
When Lee Rigby was murdered, three weeks after my dad, his murder received global news coverage and cries of protest. But my father’s brutal murder on the street, in a similar attack, received comparatively little attention. Instead of loud and heartfelt condemnation from politicians and the police, instead of hashtags and long discussions about the danger of neo-Nazi beliefs in our society, there was deafening silence.
A Muslim terrorist, on the other hand, would certainly have led to conversations about the dangers of radical Islamism.
My father was a baker and a trade unionist. There are millions like my father, from all different backgrounds and cultures, that have come here to work and seek a better life for their families. My father worked extremely hard – he did double and triple shifts at the bakery to feed his family. He gave more than he ever received. This country was founded on immigrants, it’s been supported and nourished by immigrants and we must never forget that.
Since my father’s passing I have been an active campaigner on racism and Islamophobia, standing up to both on a daily basis and speaking on many high-profile platforms. But no platforms as high-profile as those offered to our Prime Minister, David Cameron. He blames Muslim women not learning English for their lack of opportunity and equality. He makes veiled threats that those needing visas extended might be removed if they don’t speak English. His policies have strengthened institutionalised racism. He is further fuelling the Islamophobia which is burning through the world right now, especially in Europe and the USA. As with previous waves of racism, it will persecute its victims while doing nothing to improve their situation.
We are still struggling to cope with the tragic loss of our father in my family. We are Muslims and the victims of terrorism. Quite rightly, we do not equate all white people with Pavlo Lapshyn, but why are all Muslims treated as potential terrorists? Islamophobia needs to stop and we need to challenge the Conservative government’s blatantly racist rhetoric towards Muslims.
The brutal murder of my father may be one of many. But it’s important that we pay attention to the killings of Muslims, each and every one of them, and resist the temptation to turn a blind eye. Muslims are enduring intense discrimination in everyday life, at the hands of the media and through government policy. We should all unite and continue to fight this vicious tide of Islamophobia which will continue to devastate the lives of families like ours until it is brought to an end.
This article first appeared on the Stop the War website