Somali community leaders fear hate crime threat after MP's murder
We’re trying to promote a message of unity and tolerance
Thursday, 21st October 2021 — By Isabelle Stanley
POLICE have increased their presence around Camden’s mosques after Somali community leaders warned people felt at risk of hate crimes after the murder of Sir David Amess.
The Conservative MP died from stab wounds on Friday after being attacked while carrying out a surgery for his constituents in Leigh-on Sea, Essex.
Ali Harbi Ali, 25, who is of Somali heritage, is being held under the Terrorism Act in relation to the killing. His flat in Lady Somerset Road, Kentish Town, was searched over the weekend, as well as former homes in Croydon.
On Tuesday, council officers and Town Hall leader Georgia Gould attended a private meeting for those with concerns about a possible backlash.
Osob Mohamed Abdi, chair of the British Somali Community Centre in Camden, said: “Some people are too scared to go out and have their daily routine.”
The problem, Ms Mohamed Abdi said, is that the national press focused on the suspect’s Somali heritage.
“It’s unnecessary, and it can incite hatred and violence,” she said. “He [Ali Harbi Ali] is British.
“It always feels like Britishness is revoked at any moment when one of us doesn’t behave the way they should. We’re held accountable for his actions.”
She added: “When something like this happens, the first thing we think is, ‘That is absolutely awful’, and the second thing is, ‘Oh please, let the suspect not be a Muslim’, because of the terrible backlash for us.
“The police have been fantastic – they have increased their presence around mosques to help people feel safe.”
Leaders of Camden’s Somali groups have paid their own tribute to Sir David in an open letter (see below).
Sir David Amess, who died on Friday, and police in Kentish Town
The borough provided a safe haven for Somalis fleeing a bloody civil war in the 1990s.
Ms Mohamed Abdi said: “We have tried to integrate as much as possible. We’ve faced so many barriers and we’ve gone through a lot as a community. We’re trying to promote a message of unity and tolerance.
“We are a strong community in Camden and we don’t want there to be barriers between us.”
She said she was particularly worried about the safety of Mr Harbi Ali’s family, who have links to Camden.
“They are innocent bystanders to the crime. We need to balance giving support to them because they had no part in this,” said Ms Mohamed Abdi.
The British Somali Community Centre is now encouraging people to report any incidents of hate crimes that do occur.
Ms Mohamed Abdi said: “There are so many incidents where the person doesn’t report it, so it doesn’t show up in the statistics or the data. We know Somali women are the ones that are more likely to be targeted and they’re the ones that are least likely to report it.”
Police have until tomorrow (Friday) to question Mr Harbi Ali.
Camden’s Conservative group leader, Councillor Oliver Cooper, said: “Sir David Amess was the kindest man and noblest public servant, who never took himself too seriously or his job too lightly.
“He died serving the public, solving problems for anyone who asked for it. Whatever hate incited this murder could not be more misplaced.”
Holborn and Covent Garden councillor Julian Fulbrook twice stood against Sir David at general elections in the 1980s – two closely fought battles in Basildon.
“He was always very cheerful and pleasant,” said Cllr Fulbrook. “It’s an appalling tragedy. We disagreed about many things – Thatcherism, capital punishment, abortion rights, same-sex marriage, Brexit and much more. But on a personal level, as with many people across the political divide, we could have a civilised discussion about our differences.”
He added: “The only thing we could agree on was his abhorrence of fox hunting. You would think a methodist church in Leigh-on-Sea would be about the safest place in the country to hold a surgery. I am so desperately sorry for his wife Julia and the family.”
We need unity after heinous killing of dedicated Sir David
• WE, members of the Somali community of Camden, wish to express our heartfelt condolences to Sir David Amess’s family, loved ones, and constituents. Sir David was a man many knew to be a kind, decent, dedicated public servant.
For his life to be taken with such senseless violence, and all the while he was carrying out his democratic duties, will forever horrify and dismay us.
It goes without saying that we absolutely condemn this heinous crime. This despicable action goes against the very fabric of our values, heritage and culture as British-Somali Muslims.
It is with regret that we have seen some of the sensationalist media reporting of the attack, which has consistently emphasised the heritage of the suspected individual.
This is likely to stoke community tensions at a time when we need unity, so we call on everyone to not allow this to divide us or create hostilities.
We must remind ourselves of the good that Sir David Amess stood for and take inspiration from the words of his family to show kindness, love, tolerance and “work towards togetherness”.
We should also remember the words of another MP, Jo Cox, who was tragically killed whilst serving the public. Jo stated that “we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us”. We hope everyone in Camden will join us in working towards unity and togetherness and rejecting hate in any form.
Once more, our thoughts and prayers are with Sir David Amess’s family, loved ones, and anyone who has been affected by this callous act.
Somali Youth Development Resource Centre (SYDRC)
Somali Cultural Centre (SCC)
Somali Community Development Trust (SCDT)