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Government ‘in denial’ over Islamophobia, imam says after Johnson burka remarks

Mohammed Mahmoud’s accusation came as Boris Johnson faced criticism for comparing Muslim women in burkas to bank robbers.

A Muslim imam hailed as a hero for his actions during a terror attack on a London mosque has accused the Government of being “in denial” over Islamophobia.

The comment came as former foreign secretary Boris Johnson came under fire for saying that Muslim women wearing burkas look like bank robbers.

Mr Johnson said he opposed a ban on the face-covering veils, but described them as “absolutely ridiculous” and compared their wearers to rebellious teenagers.

His comments, in response to Denmark’s introduction of ban on burkas in public places, sparked an angry response from Muslim organisations and MPs, who accused him of stoking Islamophobia for political gain.

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Finsbury Park imam Mohammed Mahmoud said that the Goverment’s response to growing anti-Muslim violence was ‘lacklustre’ (PA)

The assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Miqdaad Versi, said Mr Johnson was “pandering to the far-right”, while Labour MP David Lammy branded him a “pound-shop Donald Trump”.

Labour’s Jess Phillips said she would report Mr Johnson to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

And the Tell Mama group, which campaigns against anti-Muslim violence, described his comments as “totally unacceptable” and called on Conservatives to “stop using Muslim women as a battleground for political battles”.

In an article for the Evening Standard which did not refer to the row over Mr Johnson’s comments, Finsbury Park imam Mohammed Mahmoud said that the Goverment’s response to growing anti-Muslim violence was “lacklustre, or worse, in denial”.

Mr Mahmoud was praised when he stepped in to prevent onlookers from attacking a right-wing extremist who drove his van into a crowd of worshippers outside the north London mosque last year.

Since the attack, he said his congregation had reported increasing levels of anti-Muslim abuse, including having headscarves torn off and racist chanting.

“Any community hit by terrorism should see meaningful engagement from the Government,” said Mr Mahmoud. “But we’re still waiting for that to happen — which is not lost on a community that still feels vulnerable.”

He called for “a bold strategy from the Government to combat Islamophobia, as part of a broader effort to challenge the far right”,  and said the Conservatives should deliver the internal inquiry demanded by the MCB.

In response, a Government spokesman said: “All hate crimes are absolutely unacceptable.

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Boris Johnson said Muslim women should be free to wear face-covering garments on the streets of Britain (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“They have no place in our society and we will do all we can to make sure that the perpetrators feel the full force of the law and victims get all the support they need.

“We’re working closely with the survivors of the Finsbury Park terror attack, including holding meetings last week. A further meeting is planned next month.

“We have taken strong action to stamp out anti-Muslim hatred including funding Tell Mama to record incidents and support victims, and committing £3.4m to provide protective security funding for places of worship, including mosques.

“Later this year we will publish the refreshed Hate Crime Action Plan, which will set out further ways to tackle these completely intolerable crimes.”

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Johnson said he felt “fully entitled” to expect women to remove face coverings when talking to him at his MP’s surgery, and said schools and universities should be able to take the same approach if a student “turns up… looking like a bank robber”.

He said the burka was “oppressive” and it was “absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes”.

Businesses and government agencies should be able to enforce a dress code which allowed staff to see customers’ faces, said Mr Johnson.

But he added: “Such restrictions are not quite the same as telling a free-born adult woman what she may or may not wear, in a public place, when she is simply minding her own business.”

A total ban would risk fanning the flames of grievance and turning women into “martyrs” and lead to demands for restrictions on the display of other religious symbols, he warned.

“Like a parent confronted by a rebellious teenager determined to wear a spike through her tongue, or a bolt through her nose, you run the risk that, by your heavy-handed attempt to ban what you see as a bizarre and unattractive adornment, you simply stiffen resistance,” wrote Mr Johnson.

Mr Versi responded on Twitter: “Boris Johnson says a woman in niqab is ‘looking like a bank robber’ or ‘looking like letter boxes’.

“Is this language anything other than pandering to the far-right?”

And Mr Lammy said: “Muslim women are having their burkas pulled off by thugs in our streets and Boris Johnson’s response is to mock them for ‘looking like letter boxes’.

“Our pound-shop Donald Trump is fanning the flames of Islamophobia to propel his grubby electoral ambitions.”

Labour MP Stella Creasy said Mr Johnson appeared to be positioning himself as a right-wing figure in the mould of former Trump aide Steve Bannon in the run-up to a possible Tory leadership contest.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s official spokesman said: “We do not support a ban on the wearing of the veil in public.

“Such a prescriptive approach would be not in keeping with British values of religious tolerance and gender equality.”

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