Islamophobia Awareness Month #IAM2016
Islamophobia has been described as “a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons.” Really? Women are having their hijabs pulled off as they go about their everyday business. Muslims are targeted with the liberal use of the P-word and the F-word and helpful advice on how to return to “your own country”. They experience beatings, kicks and, in one tragic case, murder. This is the true shameful face of Islamophobia in Britain today, and I question who the fascists, cowards and morons really are in this sad state of affairs.
All these cases are chronicled in a report on Anti-Muslim Hate Crime 2015 by Mend (Muslim Engagement & Development) in our annual submission to ODIHR (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights). They were obtained by numerous FOI request to all police forces in England & Wales, and make for a worrying read. Some of the headlines for 2015/16 include a 20% rise in race hate crimes and a 60% rise in religious hate crimes in the previous 12 months alone. All this occurs amidst a backdrop of a year on year rise in the total number of race and religious hate crimes in recent years.
It is imperative that we raise awareness of this growing problem. November sees the launch of Islamophobia Awareness Month (IAM), an initiative whereby various Muslim and non-Muslim organisations hold events, seminars, discussions and conferences to raise awareness of the rising tide of hate crimes against Muslims.
However before you can effectively address a problem, you have to describe and quantify it. Recording Islamophobia is bedevilled by a number of methodological problems. There are essentially two main areas of concern: under-reporting and inadequate recording.
The data suggests under-reporting of such crimes by women in particular. Given the fact that women are often visibly Muslim by virtue of wearing the hijab (headscarf), we need to reflect on why such crimes are not reported to the police. There could be many reasons for this, but one could be a perceived lack of confidence in the police, given their role in the much-criticised Prevent policy. One way to improve this would be to have more third-party reporting centres (TRCs). We have found that there is a scarcity of TRCs for Muslims. Such centres are important for building trust in local communities and connecting victims with processes for redress and victim support.
In our analysis we found that in around a third of race hate crimes the victim’s racial identity was not recorded and in approximately half of religious hate crime the victim’s religious identity was not recorded. This is woeful – imagine trying to gather data on crimes of sexual violence when the genders of the victims are not recorded.
One of the problems here is that Islamophobia is not even recorded as a separate category of crime. This contrasts with data on anti-Semitic hate crime being recorded and published separately for several years.
As such we cannot reliably estimate the number of Islamophobic offences. The introduction of an Islamophobia category from April 2017 will narrow the present gap in reliable figures on anti-Muslim hate crime but, thus far, the evidence shows the pilot schemes need to be strengthened.
Given the gaps we have identified in capturing racial and religious identity in police recorded data, adding an Islamophobia category is a necessary yet insufficient condition to ensure reliable figures emerge in the future. This is because Islamophobic hate crimes are not purely religiously motivated. Figures from the Crime Survey for England & Wales show that Muslims are much more likely to be the victims of race hate crimes than people of Christian or Buddhist backgrounds, and twice as likely to be targeted than individuals of Hindu background. Islamophobic hate crime should therefore not be defined under the narrow ‘religious’ hate crime. The racial and religious characteristics of anti-Muslim hostility need to be better reflected in police training and in crime recording systems.
The wider picture
However, Islamophobia does not occur in a vacuum. It flourishes in a social milieu where there is a barrage of biased reporting and negative stereotyping by the British Media. On issues as diverse as religiously slaughtered halal meat, the wearing of the niqab (veil) or the much criticised Prevent strategy, the Muslim community feels under siege. Some of the debate around the Brexit vote, and the hateful anti-Muslim rhetoric emanating from the Trump Presidential campaign, has simply added fuel to the fire.
Despite this, there have been some positive developments. The notable announcement from former Prime Minister David Cameron that Islamophobia was to be recorded as a separate category of hate crime was long overdue and most welcome. The Commission on Islam, Participation and Public Life by Citizens UK offers an important opportunity for Muslims across the country to describe the problems they face on a daily basis in their communities.
The report of the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life published last year highlighted the disparity in legislation protecting Muslims in comparison to Jews and Sikhs and the difficulty in prosecuting such crimes noting:
“Yet incitement to anti-Muslim hate crime is more difficult to prosecute than incitement to antisemitic or anti-Sikh hate crime. This is a further anomaly that needs to be rectified. This is because Jews and Sikhs are protected under the incitement to racial hatred provisions in Part III of the Public Order Act 1986, whereas Muslims are not”.
Hopefully this will help stimulate a debate to rectify this anomaly.
The review by Baroness McGregor Smith into the issues faced by businesses in developing Black and Minority Ethnic Talent will also shed some light onto discrimination in the workplace, where Muslims face a ‘double ethnic penalty’, of both racial and religious discrimination.
There is much to be done to tackle this important societal problem. We hope Islamophobia Awareness Month will educate, inform and inspire people to tackle this in order to further three main objectives;
- Improve victim reporting of anti-Muslim hate crime;
- Improve police response to anti-Muslim hate crime;
- Raise awareness about Islamophobia in society and its impact on British Muslims