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‘Punish a Muslim day’ generates anger, fear and solidarity in Britain

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The letters arrived in March. Sent anonymously to multiple communities, the letters with words in bold at the top declared that Tuesday, April 3, would become “Punish a Muslim day” in Britain.

Sent to homes, lawmakers and at least one business, the documents detailed a disturbing point-based system that would award attackers for acts of hatred and violence: 10 points for verbally abusing a Muslim; 500 points for “butchering a Muslim using a gun, knife, vehicle or otherwise.”

Police launched an investigation, urging communities to stand together.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police service told London's Evening Standard that there is “no credible information” that any hate crimes would happen on Tuesday. By Tuesday evening, there were no news reports of hate crime incidents relating to the “Punish a Muslim day.”

At a time when hate crimes are on the rise and British Muslims are repeatedly feeling the sting of the xenophobia that surfaced during and after the 2016 Brexit vote, the letters caused distress, not just to those receiving them, but also in the broader Muslim community.

As April 3 approached, many took to social media to share their thoughts on the hate campaign. Some posts urged British Muslims to take care and look out for one another. Others were determined that the letters would not cause them to change their daily habits.

“I've been seeing Whatsapp messages, snaps, Facebook statuses & other folks telling Muslims, particularly hijabi women, not go out tomorrow because of ‘Punish a Muslim Day.’ Every woman should do what makes her feel comfortable, but I am choosing to go about my normal day. Try me,” Rowaida Abdelaziz wrote on Twitter on Monday night.

On Tuesday, many Brits returned to work after the four-day-long Easter break. For British Muslims, the day was filled with a heightened sense of anxiety, far more than just the “back to work blues.” Some took the day off. Others asked to telework. By lunchtime, #PunishAMuslimDay had been used more than 26,000 times and was one of the top Twitter trends in the United Kingdom.

“I took the day off to take my mum to work at the NHS [National Health Service]. If it were not for her, the patients wouldn't be fed. She refused to neglect her job and went,” said one British Muslim who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concerns linked to the hate campaign. “I didn't want to regret not being available for my mum should something happen. It was my way of coping with my own anxiety, too.”

“The impact is the anxiety and fear on our whole family,” she continued. “My non-Muslim friends are allies. They get down in the pain with me and ask how they can help.”

Angry at the lack of reassurance or response from the government, many demanded answers.

“Is a UK gov't minister going to say anything about today? You know, offer reassurance, give an update on counter-terror investigation, say what they're doing on anti-Muslim bigotry? Or is that too much to ask, even when a Muslim Tory minister is threatened?” tweeted writer Sunny Hundal.

Hundal was referring to Housing Secretary Sajid Javid, a member of the Conservative Party and of Prime Minister Theresa May's Cabinet. Other lawmakers also have received the letters.

“This government condemns any attempt to sow hatred- persecution of anyone based on their race or religion has no place in our society,” Susan Williams, a Home Office minister in the House of Lords, tweeted Tuesday using the hashtag #WeStandTogether.

An outpouring of solidarity and acts of kindness weren't hard to find on social media. #LoveAMuslimDay events were organized along with the “Protect a Muslim day” initiative. Helpful and sensitive reminders on what to do if you witness abuse circulated online.

Others offered transportation to those scared to take public transportation.