In conversation with Maz Saleem, daughter of neo-Nazi terror victim

31st May 2019
In conversation with Maz Saleem, daughter of neo-Nazi terror victim

(Photo courtesy of Maz Saleem)

Maz Saleem has been tirelessly campaigning against Islamophobia and racism for the last six years. She is the daughter of the late Mohammad Saleem who was stabbed in a racially-motivated murder in April 2013. His killer, Ukrainian national Pavlo Lapshyn, went on to detonate three bombs near mosques in Walsall, Tipton and Wolverhampton in June and July and was making more in his flat before being arrested by counter-terrorism police. He was sentenced to a minimum of 40 years in prison.

In an interview with The Muslim News, Saleem spoke about how her father’s murder was a turning point for her in wanting to raise awareness about Islamophobia and racism, because “tomorrow it could be someone else’s father, mother or sister who is punched or pushed in front of a bus”. She is currently holding anti-racist workshops in schools and campaigning against the ‘War on Terror’, which she links to rising Islamophobia around the world:

Where do you think the biggest failure lies in the way your case was handled?
The way they [West Midlands Police] treat Muslim families in these circumstances, how they came to our house and how they spoke to us in a derogatory fashion, they were uncompassionate. For example, we have segregation in these types of situations when it comes to mourning, and they had male family liaison officers in the women’s area, and they were too busy looking at us as suspects rather than victims. They were putting misinformation into the community like it could be someone from our community. We had to challenge them every step of the way. I understand in certain cases it can be someone within the community, but in this case, the evidence wasn’t there. Vital evidence wasn’t picked up, CCTV wasn’t picked up. Our neighbours gave up their CCTV because police hadn’t taken it off them.

So the police treated you as suspects rather than victims?
The state mismanaged and underplayed the significance of my father’s terrorist murder. Pavlo then went on a 3-month bombing campaign. The police then wrongfully arrested an 82-year-old Muslim man who had actually removed the bombs to a safe place. This is a sad reminder of how counter-terrorism policy and the police racially profile Muslims and people of colour, assuming guilt before proof of innocence. This is unsurprising because the Muslim community is treated as a suspect community. Basic human rights can be stripped of us, and you can be taken overnight to locations such as Guantánamo. This is the extent to which Muslims are a suspect community. Nothing surprises me anymore.

How did the authorities treat you when you were going through the courts, in terms of how they were keeping you informed?
A lot went on during the Old Bailey hearing. There was even a suspect package in the old Bailey and they evacuated us. This was a big deal, and this package was from a Ukrainian journalist, and literally, Lapshyn was near us, and we looked at him in the face. We actually felt sorry for him because I believe he took a plea bargain.
There were other Ukrainians living in his flat while he was making open-plan bombs. Say there were three Muslims living in one room while one of them was making open-plan bombs, the police would go to each one of their houses, kick down the door and arrest everyone, but in this case apparently, the other two were deported back to Ukraine
When you see the policies of the Counter Terrorism Bill screening Muslims coming in and out of the country, so how was a far-right fascist Nazi allowed into the country on a work placement by the British embassy? There’s a video of him making bombs in the forest in Ukraine; he blew up the windows of his own house and his neighbours’ house making chemical experiments, and we allowed him into the country. This was all there, the police knew who he was. He said in his own words he wanted to create a race war, and he came to Small Heath Birmingham, to a Muslim area. It’s quite surprising to come into a country that is not your country to create a race war.

Why do you think Darren Osborne was portrayed as a terrorist and not Lapshyn?
This is what really annoys me. I’ve gone back and forth to the BBC to address my father’s killings as a terrorist attack. It’s not even mentioned in their list of acts of terrorism on UK soil. They always miss him out. Their response has been quite appalling really…especially since the Manchester attacks, there’s been a 500 per cent rise in hate crime against Muslims, and why is this? It’s because of the narrative being pushed out by politicians that are always demonising Muslims, migrants and refugees.

What would you call the ideology that drove Pavlo to kill?
It’s anti-Muslim hatred, it’s White supremacy and it’s leading to the rise of far-right extremism across Europe.

Are you worried there will be more violence from the far-right?
Of course, let’s look at how many attacks we’ve had. We’ve had the attempted murder of Zaynab Hussein and the 12-year-old Muslim girl by Paul Moore…we have to look at the death of Muhsin Ahmed and the grooming scandal, blaming the entire Muslim community and portraying Pakistani men as groomers (we don’t say all White men are groomers because of Jimmy Saville) and that led to the death of Muhsin who was on his way to Fajr prayer and got stamped on to the point where he had a footprint on his face, and of course the death of Makram Ali and the rise in attacks against Muslim women.

Have there been any positive changes since you started campaigning?
Since I’ve started campaigning, Alhamdulillah, people have started waking up. The problem is that with our communities, especially in Birmingham, people are there for you to support you in the sense when someone dies, cooks for you and helps you and gives you emotional support, but Muslims need to be more politically aware in the current climate, and they’re waking up to that because tomorrow it could be their father or their mother or sister that could be punched in the face or pushed in front of a bus because of the way they look and dress. The British Government behaves like it’s got a white saviour complex with Boris Johnson giving the impression that Muslim women are oppressed with his derogatory niqab comments…so I do think the Muslim community needs a good shake. And I do feel that at a lot of the talks and events I do, people are waking up, people are becoming more active, people are getting involved in politics. What I do isn’t for me, it’s for the next generation. Sometimes people are stepping away, they don’t want to change they don’t want to become active, they’re just going to be silent about what’s going on, but we need more people to stand up and speak out against this current demonisation of Muslims and Islam which has been going on since longer than the war on terror.

Do you think anything has changed for the better within British society, or do you think it’s getting worse?
It’s getting worse, you can see, the figures are there. We can see the Prevent agenda which is demonising Muslim schoolchildren…it’s all institutionalised and we have to look at institutional racism…and I worry because it is getting worse, and we need to stand up to it.

If you could distil your priorities into one, what would be your single biggest campaigning priority at the moment?
Education. Education is key. My dad was a very educated man. He pushed education for children and it is the best thing for parents. Knowledge is power, and I want to build an educational programme which I’m working on at the moment, Education for Peace, in remembrance of Mohammad Saleem. There’s going to be anti-racist workshops in schools. I’ve already done 25 in high UKIP area schools to talk to children about what’s going on to try to challenge the narrative. Let’s talk about all cultures with unity and respect instead of demonising Muslims who wear the niqab, for instance, and let’s break those stereotypes. Let’s talk about what’s going on in the media, and why people think a Muslim is a bomber or a terrorist: why do they think that, who puts this idea into their heads? The media do, politicians do, so we need to hold them to account.

Interview by Ala Abbas

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