CRIMES of racial hatred against Scotland's ethnic minority communities have risen sharply since the London terror bombings, with one police force showing a 70 per cent increase, it was revealed yesterday.
Across the Central Belt, where the vast majority of Scottish Muslims live, race hate crimes have risen by nearly a third.
Muslim leaders last night claimed the number of crimes reported to police was only the tip of the iceberg and accused police of failing to do enough to encourage people to report racist attacks.
But Scotland's most senior police officer, Peter Wilson, said the number of racist offences was "relatively low". His comments came after Scotland Yard revealed that crimes motivated by religious hatred have jumped by nearly 600 per cent in London since the 7 July suicide bombings.
The figures came amid rising fear of tension between Muslims and the wider community. One Muslim leader suggested Islamic women should stop wearing hijab headscarves to ensure their safety.
The Conservative party was also frantically trying to distance itself from Gerald Howarth, its shadow defence minister, last night, as Muslims reacted with fury to his call for them to accept the British way of life or leave the country.
Meanwhile, shadow home secretary David Davis urged the Government to rethink its policy of multiculturalism and said the Muslim community must do more to integrate into British society.
Mr Davis, who is the front-runner to succeed Michael Howard as Tory leader, said there was now an "obligation" on British Muslims to confront the terrorist threat within their own community.
"Britain has a proud history of tolerance towards people of different views, faiths and backgrounds. But we should not flinch from demanding the same tolerance and respect for the British way of life," he insisted in a newspaper article.
A total of 438 racist crimes were reported to police in Scotland between 7 and 31 July - a 22 per cent increase on the 359 offences in the same period last year, according to the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (Acpos).
Of those, 64 have been directly linked to the London bombings because of the nature of the abuse or graffiti written.
But in the forces where the largest Muslim communities are located, the increases are even more striking. In Strathclyde, where around half of Scotland's 45,000 Muslims live, race hate crimes rose from 156 to 198 - a jump of 27 per cent.
In and around Edinburgh, home to around 10,000 Muslims, incidents soared by nearly 50 per cent from 70 to 104. In Tayside, crimes rose from 26 to 45 - a 73 per cent increase. Some forces, however, showed a fall in recorded race crimes.
Most of the incidents have been verbal threats, but they have also included physical assaults and racist graffiti on mosques. In one case, a gang of racists launched a hammer attack on two Asian men as they sat in their parked car in Leith.
However, Mr Wilson, who is president of Acpos and Chief Constable of Fife Constabulary, claimed there had been no dramatic rise in race crime since the bombings.
He said: "Any racist crime is unacceptable but I am glad to see the number being recorded is relatively low and has not risen sharply as a result of the London bombings. The last thing we would have needed in Scotland would have been for our visible, minority ethnic communities to have suffered as a result of misguided prejudices. It is clear that there is still an increased level of concern and feelings of vulnerability within a number of communities, especially Muslim ones. My plea to all of our communities is that the level of support and understanding continues."
Mr Wilson added: "I am cautiously optimistic that common sense and the best instincts of everyone are prevailing." But he admitted other "low level" crimes were not being reported.
But Osama Saeed, Scottish spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain, said the true number of offences was significantly higher than those reported. "We have been dealing with an unprecedented number of reports from Muslims who have been abused, mainly verbally, on the streets. But the figures from the police are much lower than the true number of racist attacks taking place. People are not coming forward and reporting crimes.
"The police need to meet more sections of the community. They tend to talk to mainly middle-aged and elderly male figures at the mosques, but they are the least likely to be directly affected by racist crime."
Shami Khan, Edinburgh's only Asian councillor and secretary of the city's Pakistan Society, said the police needed to do more. "The police have to come out on the streets and talk to us. I suggest they go round shops handing out leaflets saying, 'If you have been harassed, speak to us'. I haven't seen them do that," he said.
The Metropolitan Police earlier revealed that crimes motivated by religious hatred have jumped six-fold in London since the 7 July bombings.
Some 269 such incidents were reported since the suicide bombings, compared to only 40 in the same period last year.
Dr Zaki Badawi, head of the Muslim College in London and chairman of the Council of Mosques and Imams, yesterday said Islamic women should stop wearing hijab headscarves:
"In the present, tense situation we advise Muslim women who fear being attacked physically or verbally to remove their hijab so as not to be identified by those hostile to Muslims."
On the political front, Mr Howarth's explosive comments to The Scotsman yesterday put the Tories under pressure to declare whether they would encourage Muslims who did not pledge allegiance to Britain to leave the country. Mr Howarth told The Scotsman: "If they don't like our way of life, there is a simple remedy: go to another country, get out."
One senior Tory spokesman stressed that the MP had not been speaking for the party. "It's a personal view of Gerald and it's not one endorsed by us. We have set out what our position is and it is broadly in line with the government's," he said. The spokesman added that if Mr Howarth had reflected on his comments then he would have made clear he was referring to suicide bombers.
However, politicians as well as Muslim campaign groups lined up to denounce his remarks. Inayat Bunglawala, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said the country needed to find a way of engaging people who felt alienated. "Making incendiary comments, urging that they be booted out of the country, is not at all helpful."
Mark Oaten, the Lib Dem home affairs spokesman, said Mr Howarth's "irresponsible" remarks would "do nothing to lower the community tensions highlighted by the huge increase in religious and race-motivated attacks since 7/7."