Fiyaz Mughal: The rising scourge of anti-Muslim hatred
Fiyaz Mughal is director of Tell MAMA, the UK’s national anti-Muslim hatred project, and Faith Matters, an interfaith charity www.tellmamauk.org | www.faith-matters.org | @tellmamauk | @faithmattersuk
A five-year old girl sent flying from the bonnet of a car, left unconscious in the road by a hit-and-run driver. A pregnant woman watching her husband being beaten up by her neighbour’s boyfriend, their children terrorised by constant abuse. A family forced from their home in Nottinghamshire, leaving behind graffiti and a ham-wrapped cross on their doorstep. Or a young woman who had faeces thrust onto her hijab in a south London street.
All these and more are just some of the 632 (and rising) cases reported during the first year of ‘Tell MAMA’, the UK’s national anti-Muslim hate crime project, which my organisation Faith Matters runs. We suspect that these are just a fraction of the total number of anti-Muslim incidents affecting ordinary Muslims up and down the country.
Our work within TELL MAMA reveals a disturbing picture of low-level anti-Muslim harassment: incidents in the workplace, in the street, between neighbours and particularly online, which may not always hit the headlines but can have a devastating effect upon peoples’ lives. From the internet, to the workplace, the street and even houses of worship, too often Muslim women and men are becoming the target of vicious, sometimes violent, abuse.
We are still in our infancy but have been successfully supporting victims of anti-Muslim prejudice since that launch in March 2012. Our initiative is based on the successful model built over 20+ years by the CST, which collects data on anti-Semitism, provides support for its victims, and protects and trains the wider Jewish community.
Our project reveals some disturbing findings. The majority of Muslims being physically attacked, harassed or intimidated because of their faith are women, according to MAMA’s figures – and those doing it are white men increasingly likely to be linked to far-right groups.
Three-quarters (74%) of incidents reported to MAMA took place over social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc), but there have also been attacks on mosque buildings, against pregnant women and ‘visible’ hijab (veil) wearers, even children and pensioners in their 80s.
In one incident recorded in Nottinghamshire, a family was forced from its home; in another, a five-year-old girl was run over. High-profile figures such as Communities Minister Baroness Warsi and journalist Jemima Khan have also been subject to online threats picked up and reported to the police by MAMA. Extreme violence featured in 23 of the cases.
The majority of those physically attacked on the street were Muslim women, wearing either the hijab (covering their head out of religious beliefs) or niqab (full face covering). Over half (58%) of cases involved female victims. These street based incidents seemed mostly ‘random’ in nature, according to victims, and often took place where interactions with others were common: at schools, using a taxi service, etc.
Visibly-identified far-right British National Party (BNP) or English Defence League (EDL) members were linked to over half (54%) of all incidents. Our work has led to the arrests of 21 far-right EDL supporters, with over 40 incidents reported against EDL leader ‘Tommy Robinson’ alone. Eighteen prosecutions have taken place, although we would like the police and CPS to do much more in this area (only two police forces – the Metropolitan Police and City of London Police – record Islamophobia as part of their crime statistics).
So what is going on? More and more research is appearing which suggests we’ve underestimated the scale of Islamophobia. As academic Matthew Goodwin and YouGov revealed a few days ago (in research about the English Defence League and the ‘counter-jihad’ movement), just 23% of people said that Islam was NOT a threat to Western civilisation. A mere 24% thought Muslims were compatible with the British way of life (with nearly half of people disagreeing that Muslims were compatible). Perhaps most disturbingly, nearly half of people polled thought there would be a clash of civilisations between Muslims and other Britons.
Now the Association of Chief Police Officers has, for the first time, started to disaggregate hate crimes reported to police in 2011. Early indications are that 50 to 60% of reported religious hate crimes were anti-Muslim, according to a speech Baroness Warsi gave at MAMA’s inaugural dinner this January.
There is no conflict between being ‘British’ and being ‘Muslim’. A full 83% of Muslims said they were proud to be British, compared to 79% of Britons overall. Millions of Muslims fought for the Empire. Yet recent history shows us what happens if we allow our fears to run unchecked. Demonisation of ‘the Other’, misguided beliefs that Muslims are somehow a monolithic block, unchecked lies that Islam is a violent religion wishing to ‘take over’, or that British Muslims wish to abuse white girls, must be challenged.
It is a scourge which has direct implications for peace and security within all communities and we are calling on the police to do more to tackle this shameful wave of fear and prejudice. Whilst we acknowledge that resource cuts have taken place, we also understand that cuts do not necessarily mean the quality of service to victims should fall. Indeed, this is something the Home Secretary herself has reiterated. Victims of hate crimes must be kept informed about their cases and ‘hate crime’ should become a central focus for Police and Crime Commissioners as they shortly implement their policing plans.
The issue of far-right activism and ‘broadband extremism’ needs to be brought into the domain of the Home Office rather than the Department for Communities and Local Government, too, which works on the ‘softer’ end of issues affecting communities. A major policy shift is needed here. We need a review as well on the decision to make online-hate prosecutions more difficult, which the DPP Keir Starmer announced late last year.
The Muslim community must show some leadership here, of course, and make sure it is engaging through its leaders with wider society. Muslims must not tolerate those who call for intolerance or hatred towards secular Britons or other faiths. But Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hated is something we must all take responsibility for, before the situation escalates out of control.