SWM 2014: Tackling Islamophobia in the United Kingdom
In the United Kingdom, extremist organizations such as the English Defence League have launched vocal attacks against the Muslim minority. However, while these groups remain at the fringe politically, their activities comprise only a small fraction of the true extent of Islamophobic hate speech and violence. Fiyaz Mughal, director of the charity Faith Matters, discusses the challenges with MRG and how his organization’s Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) project is supporting efforts to address them.
The UK has one of the better developed reporting mechanisms in Europe on hate crime, but Tell MAMA has highlighted that only a fraction of incidents against Muslims are actually reported. What is contributing to this lack of visibility?
There is a lack of trust, a lack of awareness in Muslim communities of what hate incidents and hate crimes are, and also a desire to let things go and not create ‘trouble’ as it is perceived – these all play a role. Many people have a reluctance to report hate incidents for fear that they may have to confront the accused or end up in court giving evidence. Some are intimidated by this process and so it is about treating victims with dignity, respect, and giving them all of the relevant information that they need. Also, our experience shows that if victims are supported at the beginning, they are more likely to want to go through the process.
We have also found that at a street level, visible Muslim females are the ones that are more likely to suffer anti-Muslim hate and intolerance. Many of them are not aware of the processes and many of them also lack confidence or feel that if they do report in, their husbands and their sons may feel that they must do the duties and functions that she previously did to reduce her risk, further disempowering the mother and the female in the family. So many just bear the abuse and get on with another day.
Do you think that sections of the British media are contributing to the problem?
Sadly, some media outlets in the UK produce a daily diet of caricatured stories and inflammatory headlines about Muslims, and this doesn’t help improve mainstream thinking around anti-Muslim hate. Some press sources have been churning this out for years, and there is an impact in the way these stories are then circulated by others as fact.
How can police enhance their own procedures to improve the rate of reporting?
Well, we have made clear that police training on understanding the language of anti-Muslim hate is key and this also goes for practitioners in the Criminal Justice system. In fact, this is urgently needed if headway is to be made on tackling of anti-Muslim hate – otherwise, actions will miss out one vital component.
In this regard, forces need training for frontline officers and evidence from Tell MAMA shows that racist and anti-Muslim rhetoric is, on many occasions, mixed together, and we strongly believe that front-line police officers who come out and see victims classify the cases as racist without much digging and the asking of relevant questions. Ensuring that the classification of cases takes place is essential to get a grip and handle on the scale of the problem, as well as provide the right kind of support to the victim. Wrongly classifying a case can also affect its outcome since the Crown Prosecution Service may take a wrong train of enquiry in the end.
Finally, how can members of the general public contribute to supporting victims of hate crime?
Members of the public can support hate crime work by promoting and publicizing it, and volunteering for it. Also, ensuring that rhetoric is challenged, whether through the press or through other sources, is key. Furthermore, where there has been proactive community engagement from police forces, we have seen interesting initiatives like training for community activists on understanding hate crime, with police forces actively involved. This partnership can and does reap rewards for the long term and it is something that we would always advocate.
This article appears in MRG’s annual flagship report State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2014. View the full report.
Photo: A Muslim woman in Canterbury. Credit: Chris Beckett