Muslim leaders in UK warn of ‘worrying’ levels of Islamophobia

Muslim Council of Britain expresses concern at figures showing anti-Muslim attacks in London increased by 70% in year up to July



Muslim women wearing headscarves        The Muslim Council of Britain has warned of increasing levels of Islamophobia in the UK after recent videos showing anti-Muslim abuse on public transport were posted online and police forces in England and Wales were ordered to treat such attacks in the same vein as antisemitism.

Miqdaad Versi of the Muslim Council of Britain said: “As a whole, we have to understand that the UK is a very tolerant society, with London one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, and thankfully these kinds of attacks are relatively rare. But they are on the rise.

“The growth in Islamophobia has reached levels which are very worrying. Most Muslims know someone who’s suffered some form of abuse, whether online, physical or verbal. We’re now in a very serious situation and have been for the past year.”


The furore surrounding the videos has also underlined the difficulties of compiling reliable data on religiously motivated attacks, particularly when such abuse takes place online. In one attack, a woman was filmed shouting abuse at two Muslim women, one of whom was pregnant, and calling them “Isis bitches”. A 36-year-old woman from north-west London was subsequently arrested and pleaded guilty to causing racially aggravated distress.

In the same week, a 25-year-old man handed himself in to police after video footage emerged that purportedly showed a man screaming Islamophobic abuse at a pensioner in Tottenham, north London, and then apparently throwing his walking frame out on to the pavement.

The videos, which were widely shared on social media, emerged shortly after the Metropolitan police released figures indicating that anti-Muslim attacks in London had increased by 70% in the 12 months to July, from 478 incidents the previous year to 816.

Yet the underlying picture is that religiously motivated crime is extremely rare in the UK, affecting 0.1% of adults, according to Home Office figures.

In total, 52,528 hate crimes were recorded by police in England and Wales in 2014-15, an increase of 18% on the previous year. Of those, 3,254 were religiously motivated. That is only 6% of the total number of hate crimes – but the figure was a 43% increase on the previous year.

The recording of data by police, while still patchy, has improved, which could help explain the increase. But the reluctance of victims to report attacks may also underestimate the true figures.

Figures from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), a face-to-face victimisation poll, estimated that there were 222,000 hate crimes per year between 2012 and 2015. About a sixth (38,000 a year) of this estimate related to religiously motivated hate crimes.

Among groups who are the targets of religiously motivated attacks, Muslims are by far the biggest group – although the chances of being a victim are still very small. According to the CSEW figures, 0.8% of Muslims are the victims of hate crimes, compared to 0.3% of Hindus, 0.1% of Christians and 0.5% of other religious groups.

Last year, the College of Policing defined hate crime as offences motivated by hostility or prejudice on the grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation, transgender status or disability.

According to Tell MAMA, an organisation that monitors anti-Muslim attacks through self-referrals, women are much more likely to be targeted because their dress makes them more vulnerable. “Women wearing the headscarf are more likely to experience name calling, have things thrown at them, general abuse”, Fiyaz Mughal of Tell MAMA said. “Women wearing the full-face veil will suffer both more incidents and more aggressive incidents, such as people pulling off their veils.”

He added that Muslim women also faced high levels of abuse online, with their faith and gender targeted for humiliation. “It’s the intersectionality of prejudice.”

A recent report for Tell MAMA, We Fear For Our Lives, based on in-depth interviews with the targets of Islamophobic attacks, found a spike in the number of incidents following “trigger” events such as the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris in January and the Tunisia terrorist attack in June.

The report gives examples of online threats relating to the Charlie Hebdo killings. One read: “Fill your car with Calor gas canisters, park it next to a mosque, light the fuse then leave. #JeSuisCharlie #KillAllMuslims #ParisShooting.” Others urged driving a car into a crowd of Muslims leaving a mosque and compiling a “hitlist” of Muslim homes and schools.

While Home Office data shows an increase following the murder of Lee Rigby in July 2013, there was no clear increase following the Charlie Hebdo shootings.

According to Mughal, there has also been in increase in anti-Muslim attacks directly relating to the refugee crisis, which has seen hundreds of thousands of people fleeing persecution and conflict in the Middle East and Africa trying to reach safe haven in Europe.

“People see women in hijabs coming into Europe, so the poor British woman just going to work or to the shops gets it,” he said.

Earlier this month, David Cameron ordered police forces to record data on anti-Muslim hate crimes and to treat them as seriously as antisemitic attacks, a move welcomed by the MCB and Tell MAMA.

The move means police forces across the UK will adopt uniform recording mechanisms that will help build a more comprehensive picture of Islamophobic crime, Mughal said. “But it will take up to five years to properly implement that”, he added.

Versi said better recording was the first step in the long process of reducing the occurrences of Islamophobic crimes.“Islamophobia and antisemitism are both serious crimes, but work to tackle antisemitism is well developed. Now we need to replicate that fantastic work with Islamophobia. All forms of bigotry need to be treated equally.”

Many Muslims were wary of reporting attacks to the police, he said, believing they would be viewed “through the lens of counter-terrorism. We need a situation where the police are seen as allies against hate crimes”.


The Guardian


F. Achouri

Sociologue spécialiste de l’islam contemporain.

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