Acid Attacks: Washing off Skin Colour?
The latest horror attack in London is another acid attack whose victims are Shakwat Hussain, 24, and his friend, both sprayed with corrosive fluid in Bethnal Green, east London. The attack happened at 7pm last night and is the latest in a series of similar assaults in recent weeks targeting Muslims in east London.
Hussain and his friend stopped a police car for help and ran into a shop in agonising pain screaming for help. The shopkeeper said “They were shouting and I gave them water and they were washing their faces. They said: ‘We’ve got acid on us.’ They were pouring the water over themselves in the shop, and it had got into their clothes. One of them was pouring it down his trousers. I was really scared. They were crying and saying: ‘Put the water on me.’”
In Roman Road, firefighters connected hoses to a mains pipe below the pavement in an attempt to wash off the acid from the two men. A police officer said that “the colour of their faces had changed” as a result of the attack. PC Bennett, from Bethnal Green police station, said that the skin colour “had changed from where the bleach had been thrown over them.” He told a reporter: “So there was a discolouring on the faces.”
Hussain’s sister, Zackiya, 22, said her brother was discharged from the hospital at 3am and was being treated at a specialist burns unit at the Broomfield Hospital, in Chelmsford, Essex, where he will receive skin grafting treatment.
Zackiya said that her brother’s horrible incident “changed his life forever,” as she released images of her brother’s life-changing facial injuries, saying that “I just don’t understand what these people are thinking, what are they getting from it? How can they just go around throwing acid at people? It’s going to be so hard for my brother from now on. You can see already that it has completely changed his appearance. He is devastated.”
Industrial strength sulphuric acid which is sold as drain cleaner can be easily bought over the counter without any questions being asked. While a knife attack is considered attempted murder, an acid attack would be grievous bodily harm (GBH) and DNA evidence would be hard to find on the scene. It is easy to see how this has become the weapon of choice, especially among gang members.
According to police figures, east London is at the centre of the acid attack epidemic, with Newham, Barking and Dagenham, Tower Hamlets and Hackney as the four boroughs with the highest number of acid attacks in the last three years.
Hate Crime and Islamophobia
On 5 July, demonstrators in east London gathered to protest against acid attacks and Islamophobia, holding a minute’s silence in solidarity with the Muslim victims. On 21 June, Resham Khan and Jameel Muhktar were attacked by a white male who threw acid on them in east London, leaving them with life-changing injuries. Both of them believed the attack was an Islamophobic hate crime.
On 1 July, an article in the Independent, titled “East London acid attack: When Muslims are the victims, we refuse to call it terrorism,” argued that there are differences in the ways we talk about attacks on Muslims as opposed to those attacks carried out by Muslims themselves. It said that the attack on Jameel Muhktar and his cousin Resham Khan was either ignored, or relegated to a minor story, by mainstream media. As the article points out, “if Jameel and Resham were James and Rebecca, and white rather than Asian, then their images would have made headline news for at least a day.”
But there is another problem when covering such horrible incidents, the article attests. There is an evident reluctance to brand such attacks on Muslims as “terrorism,” while attacks perpetrated by white men are usually explained as the result of an isolated mad man or even reduced to a footnote.
In another article published on 11 July in Huffington Post, Rabina Khan writes that “With the rise in Islamophobia, it is not clear if the recent acid attacks on Muslims are pre-emptive of, or an extension of, the terror attack on Finsbury Mosque, hate crimes or vicious assaults. There is little media coverage on acid attacks - particularly when the victims are Muslim - and much less investigation on the nature and causes of the sharp increase.”
She urged that such attacks should be considered as lethal and that harsher sentences should be handed out to those who use corrosive substances to “deliberately disfigure someone.” As she highlighted, acid attacks are also about trying to destroy one’s identity and selfhood.
The Daily Mail today featured an article on Resham Khan, in which she states that she is “scared to go to the shop” but grateful that her face is “mainly intact.” In her blog on Monday she wrote: “I understand being upset is normal, so I won't punish myself for my low moods and rollercoaster of emotions recently. But I'm sat here depressed about my face: Wondering if my eye will ever get back to normal. If my eyelids ever close again. What my skin colour will be.”
It is difficult to ignore the Daily Mail’s choice of images of Resham’s face and injuries, especially when these are juxtaposed to images of white women’s healthy bodies sunbathing in some exotic place. And it is difficult to ignore that these acid attacks are nothing more than a cruel way to disfigure, change and eradicate the skin colour, difference and sense of identity of the victims. These acts are, and should be treated as criminal, in the same manner as those where more conventional murder weapons have been used.
Anyone with information concerning the latest attack should call police on 101, tweet @MetCC or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.