How ‘bigotry’ became an excuse for violence

Last week, three Muslim men were jailed at Liverpool Crown Court for attacking non-Muslims in the city centre. In the early hours of 30 March last year, after a heavy night of drinking, the three men from Bolton attacked and punched several men. Two of the victims ended up in hospital and witnesses were left feeling shaken, believing the men might be ISIS terrorists.

This was because the three attackers – Amin Mohmed, 24, Mohammed Patel, 20, and Faruq Patel, 19 – asked the men they came across if they were Muslims before attacking them. Gary Bohanna and Paul Lynch, a recently elected Labour councillor, were taken to hospital where they were treated for their wounds. The attackers were eventually stopped by Edris Nosrati, a Muslim immigrant from Iran, who was told by the three men he could leave unharmed after he recited the Shahada, ‘There is only one God, and Muhammad is his messenger’.

Two of the defendants were convicted of a racial or religious motive (Mohammed Patel confirmed the victims were ‘targeted because they were white and non-Muslim’). While these attacks were clearly the work of drunken idiots – one of the defendants claimed he couldn’t remember what had happened because he was so drunk – the defence’s case was particularly revealing. The defendants said to police they had been subjected to racist abuse, and that this had sparked their rampage.

This sort of claim is prevalent throughout society more broadly. One of the default explanations for homegrown Islamist terrorist attacks is that young Muslims are isolated from society due to their experience of racism and ‘Islamophobia’ (this is something the Manchester attacker, Salman Abedi, had claimed he’d experienced). This is an attempt to excuse violence through cultivating a victim status.

These attacks in Liverpool were the work of three drunk young men, and we should be careful not to draw too many conclusions. But their defence, their decision to fall back on claims of racism, is telling. This was a clear attempt to explain away their own violent, bigoted actions by pointing to the supposed bigotry of others. It didn’t help them in court. But they were reading from a script that society had written for them.

Christopher Beckett is a writer and researcher working in the education sector. Read his blog.

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