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Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes Rise After Murder Of British Soldier


Now, the repercussions of Lee Rigby's murder in British society, what damage did the gruesome public declaration of responsibility for the killing do to relations between Muslims and other Britains? Well, joining us now is John Burns, London bureau chief for the New York Times. Welcome to the program once again.

JOHN BURNS: It's a pleasure.

SIEGEL: There have been reports of increased attacks on British Muslims since last week. How bad has it been?

BURNS: Well, I don't think we should exaggerate this. There have been perhaps as many as a few dozen cases across the country of doling of graffiti on mosques. Some cases reported of women with hijabs or Muslim headgear being torn off in the street. There has been quite a lot of incidents on Twitter and Facebook, use of social media for anti-Muslim invective and there have been some arrests as a result of that.

There has been, on the other side of this issue, if one could call it that, there's also been some blowback. The two of the principle war memorials in London were daubed with the word Islam in red paint at the weekend. But I think it's fair to say that it's been fairly contained. We're not talking about major public disorder.

SIEGEL: And when we see news footage or read accounts of the far right group, the English Defense League, protesting, is this a group that remains marginal in British life generally or...

BURNS: Absolutely.

SIEGEL: Oh, they are. Very much.

BURNS: Absolutely marginal. They're capable of creating, on occasion in places, this past weekend in the city of Newcastle, an industrial city in the northeast, considerable commotion. They tie down hundreds of police officers who have to separate them from counterdemonstrators. There's some limited scuffling, but not major violence. They are a very marginal group.

SIEGEL: I guess we should just note here that while I've asked you about the backlash and the counter-backlash, a great many people have stepped forward to denounce from all sides, obviously the killing, and also the far right protest against the killing.

BURNS: Oh, they have and most importantly, of course, are the enumerable number of Muslim community organizations and Imams all over Britain, including the principle Muslim body in the country, the Muslim Council of Britain, for example, very quickly came out with anguished condemnations of what happened and insistent statements to the effect that this had nothing to do with Islam.

And indeed, that was what Prime Minister Cameron said on the morning after this attack when he stood in the street, in Downing Street, and said this has nothing to do with Islam. So I think you're quite right. It's necessary to emphasize that the Muslim communities have said that these people do not represent them and do enormous damage to the estimated 2.5 million Muslims who live in the United Kingdom.

SIEGEL: Do you think this incident, this crime, might have some repercussion, though, on, say, discussion of immigration down the road?

BURNS: Well, of course, this does play into that debate, which is extremely vigorous and has moved to the top of the political agenda here. But I have to say, right wing political leaders, not the far right, have been, I think, rather careful not to conjoin those two issues. It's far too emotive. It's recognized as being very emotive and would very quickly be seen to be tarring the whole of one particular community with the brush of indictment here.

SIEGEL: John Burns, thanks a lot for talking with us.

BURNS: It's a pleasure.

SIEGEL: That's John Burns, London bureau chief for the New York Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.