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Brent mayor criticised for handling of islamophobia incident on bus

A North London mayor has been criticised for ‘ignoring’ an incident of Islamophobia on a bus. The incident saw a man being verbally abusive to a Muslim mum, while other passengers, including the mayor, appeared to watch on.

Brent’s mayor said she ‘felt intimidated’ by the incident but an eye witness has questioned why she failed to report it.

Last week (September 5), journalist Shamim Chowdhury tweeted about an incident she had witnessed on the 260 bus, near Harlesden High Street. She described seeing a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, standing with her baby, being abused by a man wearing a pale blue jacket and a black cap..

Ms Chowdhury’s tweet said: “He referred to her as a jihadi, referred to her Muslim faith and swore at her, all the time ignoring the fact that she had a baby with her. When I gave her my number and said I’d be a witness, he turned to me and said: ‘are you sure about that? I’d be careful if I were you’.”

No one else on the bus came to the defence of the mother following the verbal tirade, according to Ms Chowdhury, which she described on social media as ‘beyond depressing’. She subsequently informed the driver and reported the incident to the police.

It was later pointed out that the woman pictured in the flowery top is the borough’s mayor, Cllr Orleen Hylton. The original tweet had more than 600,000 views, with many urging the mayor and Brent Council to respond to the incident.

A statement from the mayor was eventually issued through the council’s Twitter account yesterday (September 11). In it, Cllr Hylton said it was ‘horrifying’ that the woman was verbally abused just because of her faith.

She added: “I didn’t witness the full situation unfold although I did hear raised voices when I was [sitting] at the front of the bus. It was at the stop before mine, as I was preparing to get off, that I moved to the exit doors.

“As a single female travelling alone, I know the victim must have felt very intimidated – as I did too. I do sincerely hope that the victim is ok and that the Police and Transport for London (TfL) are investigating thoroughly so he can be brought to justice.”

However, Ms Chowdhury questioned “how it is possible to be intimidated by something you didn’t witness” and said it is “her duty” as mayor to find out what happened and respond appropriately.

Ms Chowdhury tweeted: “The mayor’s office only issued a statement after I emailed them. Even then, they have not replied to my email but simply posted a tweet. Am I to assume, then, that the major would have remained silent about the incident, had I not raised it with her office? Did she only respond because she felt compelled to do so after it was revealed that she was on the bus?”

The An-Nisa Society,  a charity based in Brent that has been working with Muslim families and children for almost 40 years, said there have been several attacks on Muslim on buses, ‘especially on the Harrow Road route through Harlesden’. An-Nisa believe it is ‘highly unlikely’ the mayor didn’t see and hear the incident, suggesting her actions as a public servant are ‘of concern’.

They tweeted: “Her duty as a councillor, was to report the incident to the police and [Brent] Council’s Community Safety Team. She failed in her duty to Brent residents. The most honourable thing is that she should resign. At the very least she should apologise.”

Brent Muslims, a local community group that works to address issues of Islamophobia and inequality in the borough, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that both hate crimes and institutionalised Islamophobia is ‘widespread’ in the borough.

They said: “It is ignored and swept under the carpet but incidents like this bring it to the forefront. Muslims and especially Muslim women and children will be afraid to go out – in a borough that has won awards for diversity. These awards should be withdrawn. It’s an embarrassment.”

Brent Council also tweeted a response from the leader, Cllr Muhammed Butt. He said: “There is absolutely no place for hate crime anywhere in the UK, but especially in one of the most diverse boroughs in the country.”

He added: “We would like to thank the individual who has highlighted this terrible case of Islamophobia in our borough. We have been in touch with the Police and [Transport for London] and trust that a thorough investigation will take place.

“Islamophobia is a blight on our communities, it is a vile and unacceptable form of discrimination that has no place in our borough. We will continue the fight to make sure that Brent is an inclusive and accepting place for people of all faiths and backgrounds.

“This November, for the 2nd year running, we will host and support a range of events to mark Islamophobia Awareness Month to show that we are all united and that any form of discrimination will not be tolerated in our community.”