Dozens arrested in Leicester and 16 police officers injured as religious tensions reach boiling point

A still from viral social media footage of civil disorder in Leicester, UK, on Sept. 18
By Thomas Brooke
6 Min Read

In recent days, authorities in the English city of Leicester have made more than two dozen arrests following the further escalation of violence and growing tension between the resident Hindu and Muslim religious communities, a story now receiving international attention.

The importation of migrants into Britain from South Asia, the majority of whom it is important to say are peaceful, also brings with it the area’s cultural baggage, including rising tensions between Indians and Pakistanis, de facto Hindus and Muslims.

The latest act in the long-running feud began on Aug. 28 following a cricket match between India and Pakistan in Dubai, two intense sporting rivals at the best of times. Local Muslim leaders in Leicester claimed India supporters were heard chanting “Pakistan Murdabad,” or “Death to Pakistan.”

Muslims make up 96.2 percent of Pakistan’s population, and the enraged local Muslim community in Leicester responded in kind.

Muslims from across Britain are understood to have converged on Leicester to retaliate, targeting Hindu businesses and households with viral footage circulating on social media purporting to show a mob of Muslim men desecrating a Hindu place of worship by burning religious flags.

For the past three weeks, Leicester has been a battleground for groups of young Hindu and Muslim gangs intent on retaliating for what both sides believe to be provocation by the other. Despite calls for peace by authorities and religious leaders, the violence has only escalated further.

Each insulting act conducted by one on the other has only added further fuel to the fire, and extremist activists now have ample ammunition to enlist more disenfranchised recruits.

One such activist is Muslim fundamentalist Mohammed Hijab, who tells an audience of masked, presumably Muslim men to attack Hindu communities.

“If they (Hindus) believe in reincarnation, what a humiliation for them to be reincarnated into some pathetic, weak, cowardly people like that,” Hijab tells supporters, saying he would “rather be an animal” than be reincarnated as a Hindu.

“Don’t ever come out like that again,” Hijab warns the Hindutva movement of Indian nationalists responding to Muslim attacks. “If they do come out, are we going to be here, yes or no?” Hijab asks his supporters, who respond positively with chants of “Allahu Akbar.”

Attacks on Hindus have been widespread across the city in recent weeks, prompting the High Commission of India to release a statement in which it “strongly condemns the violence perpetrated against the Indian Community in Leicester and vandalization of premises and symbols of Hindu religion.”

It calls on authorities to “provide protection to the affected people.”

After weeks of violent disorder, things came to a head once again on Saturday as groups of Hindus and Muslims clashed on Melton Road in the city, prompting police to make 27 arrests for offenses including making threats to kill, possession of bladed articles, and street brawls.

Leicestershire Police are understood to have diverted police resources away from London to oversee the outpouring of grief in the capital over the weekend following the death of Queen Elizabeth II in order to contain the situation.

Sixteen police officers and a police dog were reportedly injured in the violence on Saturday, according to Leicestershire Police’s chief constable, Rob Nixon.

“They were faced with significant aggression. I think they faced some very, very challenging situations, and I actually do believe they put themselves in danger to protect the public,” Nixon said.

“I have to say, I was actually on the ground [on Saturday] and I saw the level of aggression and the level of non-compliance, and I thought my officers did a tremendous job when significantly outnumbered.

“I think we were faced with a significant number of people that were intent on causing significant injury to other people, and my officers stood their ground,” he added.

The Guardian newspaper further reported on Monday that out of those arrested, half had come from outside the county of Leicestershire, showing that religious activists in other parts of the UK are stirring tensions and calling on reinforcements to head to the front line in Leicester.

The rising tensions and civil unrest has prompted a debate on a national level about not just immigration from the South Asian region, but the extent to which those who migrate to Britain actually assimilate into Western society.

“A lot of people are asking why on Earth we’ve got clearly very unpleasant, violent, sectarian battles on the streets of the UK,” conservative commentator Julia Hartley-Brewer said on Tuesday.

Leicester’s Council of Faiths recently expressed its concern about the “escalation between groups of individuals with particular agendas and grievances,” and claimed “more needs to be done to engage with the leaders of these extreme groups to establish dialogue and come to a resolution.”

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