I was there and I must confess it did not look like an attack on Oona King to me. She was not especially visible, and no slogans were chanted or words uttered – as surely they would have been if this was merely a stance against King’s support of the Iraq war.
Most of those there thought it much more straightforward. They believed this was an attack by Muslims on Jews. After all, the men wore skullcaps, the prayers were in Hebrew. There was no doubt who they were.
Still, it was hard to be certain.
Syed Mumin, a 24-year-old student who has lived all his life in the block, was adamant. It was nothing to do with King. “And it’s nothing to do with Iraq or Palestine or anything to do with religion,” he said.
Instead, Syed explained, the area was overcrowded and rundown. “There’s a lot of aggression.” The result is that when the police show up they get pelted. If even a resident drives in with a newly clean car, he’ll get “egged”. Here was a group of outsiders, so they got the treatment too. His friend Bokkar Ali added: “They’re just kids having a laugh. They do it to everyone.”
Except the culprits did not look like kids; most seemed to be in their late teens or 20s. And there’s the testimony of Aminur Rahman, 18, who told me: “There’s a lot of hatred towards the Jewish. We’ve got hatred towards them.” He knew Sunday’s group were Jewish because of the skullcaps and he knew the story of the 1945 bomb. So was it wrong to attack people who were grieving? “It was wrong in a way, but I think they deserved it because they came into a Muslim community.”
Prewar Jews, like today’s East End Muslims, also lived in unforgiving poverty. They too were herded into the cramped streets of East London as the first stop for new immigrants. They too were reviled as outsiders, branded as parasites on the indigenous society. And they too were feared as a potential fifth column, suspected adherents of a violent, supranational ideology. The “Jewish menace” was said to be first anarchism and then Bolshevism. Today’s “Muslim peril” is jihadism.
This is what grieved some of those mourners most. As they huddled together in fear, one spoke for all when she said: “This is so wrong. We should be on the same side.”