Published:

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


Screen shot 2013-03-11 at 12.38.06A
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.


Anti-Muslim
prejudice has real and corrosive impacts on the individual, on families,
communities and ultimately on our trust between each other. At the recent Community Security Trust
(CST) dinner held in Central London, the Home Secretary, Theresa May MP made
clear that those who promote hate and who cause division in our societies
should understand that the values of fairness, freedom and justice will not be
eroded. That is why we commend her, and those politicians who, one year ago, backed
the launch of Tell MAMA: the Secretary of State for the Department for
Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles MP, Andrew Stunell MP, Baroness
Sayeeda Warsi and the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg MP.

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.

Findings

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).

Background

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.

Wider myth-busting

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.

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