Over a year has now passed since the brutal murder of Lee Rigby on the streets of our capital. This killing was driven by the desire of two extremists to kill a soldier. They had previously been filmed at events at which extremist rhetoric had been spouted and where they were actively part of the agitating group. The murder was followed by a series of anti-Muslim incidents and attacks which were concentrated within the space of two to three months, and which created a sense of fear in some sections of Muslim communities. This fear was expressed by MINAB, (the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Body) and by people on the ground that we talked to at the time.
However, we must not lose sight of the fact that even after such a brutal murder, many communities came together and re-enforced our common bonds, values and humanity and this, allied with a common sense approach which I believe is part of our British heritage, helped to dampen down what could have been very serious disturbances across our country. These actions also ensured that the relative peace of our nation was not been shaken, and this must be celebrated – and was what Gunner Rigby’s family wanted, since they called for no repercussions after his murder.
There were also, sadly, stories of the terrorist attacks on three mosques in Wolverhampton, Tipton and Walsall by the self-radicalised Ukrainian neo-Nazi, Pavlo Lapshyn, and attacks on over 30 mosques within eight weeks of the murder of the young soldier. There were also attacks on institutions such as community centres in the immediate period after the murder of Drummer Rigby.
TELL MAMA, the national hate crime monitoring project on anti-Muslim hate crimes was at the heart of recording and monitoring Islamophobic hate incidents and crimes, whilst also supporting victims and ensuring that evidence was collected for police prosecutions. This adrenaline-laden environment continued for over two to three weeks before we noticed a falling-off of both on-line and off-line (street based) cases coming in to us.
Our first national report on anti-Muslim hatred which covered the period from early 2012 to March 2014 found that reluctance by members of Muslim communities was a key factor in under-reporting, and that visible Muslim women were the main targets for on-line and off-line anti-Muslim hate activities. It also stated that nearly 70 per cent of on-line incidents reported had a perpetrator with a link to a Far Right group. In effect, the report concluded that a small number of die-hard Far Right ideologues were having a disproportionate impact in the on-line world in promoting anti-Muslim hatred.
Our second national report, which will be launched early next month, will highlight further trends from the data that TELL MAMA has received. It will demonstrate what we have stated on a number of occasions – namely, that after the murder of Gunner Rigby, there was a large spike in anti-Muslim hate incidents, both online and off-line, which were reported into TELL MAMA. This finding is backed by other agencies such as the Metropolitan Police Service, and was also indicated by Commander Simon Letchford of the Met last June and by evidence unearthed by a Freedom of Information request).
The report will quantify the high percentage of under-reporting of Islamophobic hate incidents to the police and which were received by TELL MAMA. This continues to be a concern, and shows that more work needs to be done by police forces and by civil society organisations in building confidence and trust between victims and the forces themselves in order to report such incidents and crimes. The report will also highlight the continuing high representation of Far Right sympathisers in on-line cases, with over half of these linked to such sympathisers.
Whilst the figure of Far Fight sympathisers involved in online anti-Muslim hate has dropped from last year, the figure none the less remains stubbornly high, and indicates that social media, blogs and web-sites continue to be playgrounds for Far Right groups and sympathisers to promote their anti-Muslim hate messages. Furthermore, the report will also highlight the fact that the majority of victims are between the ages of 21-40. This indicates that younger people are reporting Islamophobic hate incidents, and this is to be welcome if we are to build stronger and safer communities in the future.
Finally, it is important to note that extremism, hate and intolerance are usually triggered by a range of social factors. What is clear is that if we do not continue to tackle extremism and confront the narratives of hate head on, we will continue to have reaction and counter-reaction. We also have to be honest and say that some of the anti-Muslim rhetoric and narratives of Islamophobic hate, however twisted and perverted they are, play off other narratives of extremism.
This is why, whilst we will continue to tackle Far Right extremism, which is one strong driver in promoting anti-Muslim hate, we must also tackle those who believe that others have fewer rights because they are of a different faith, sexuality or have no belief. It is thinking like this which cycles the paranoia within Far Right and other circles that Muslims are a threat. There is much to do, but we cannot continue to have extremists from different camps play off each other with innocent citizens caught in the middle of their madness.
The TELL MAMA annual report for 2013/2014 will be released in early July by Teesside University, the academic partners associated with the TELL MAMA national project.