Through our work at JAN Trust we have dealt with many Muslim women over the twenty years who have suffered from Islamophobia. It has included verbal and physical abuse, their children being bullied and damage to their property.
The portrayal of Muslims and Islam in wide parts of the media is likely to be a contributing factor. An increasing awareness of the presence and actions of British Muslims, as a consequence of the 9/11 and 7/7 terror attacks, have resulted in sensationalised scaremongering headlines such as “1 in 3 British Muslim students back killing for Islam and 40% want Sharia law” (Daily Mail, December 22nd, 2010) or “Muslim Schools Ban Our Culture” (Daily Express, February 20th, 2009). The religious preference of those involved often has no relevance to the crime or issue being reported. Furthermore, an article in the Independent exposed “The shameful Islamophobia at the heart of Britain’s press”, detailing how tabloid newspapers have been known to publish untrue, unverified, or even fabricated ‘facts’ about incidents involving Muslims.
Indeed, this scaremongering and the resulting ‘fear’ of British Muslims has sparked a worrying increase in the membership and Islamophobic activity of far right fascist groups over the last few years. Research conducted by the anti-racism group, Hope not Hate highlighted the UK as one of the most active countries in counter-jihad extremism in Europe, with about 22 anti-Islamic groups currently functioning.
Arguably, the influence of these far right groups and the media, particularly in filtering well-disguised prejudice through acceptable forums, is having a negative effect on the freedom of Muslims to openly practice their religion without fear of discrimination or attack. In fact when JAN Trust asked our Facebook followers what they believe is the biggest issue facing women in the UK today, the first answer was about the lack of freedom to wear the niqab (face covering) or the hijab (head scarf) without judgement.
In over 20 years that JAN Trust has been working with Black, Asian, minority ethnic communities, we have both witnessed and dealt with numerous cases of hatred towards Muslims, or indeed, those mistaken for Muslims. These include cases similar to a very recent one in Solihull which involved a man ripping off a woman’s niqab and throwing it on the floor in a crowded shopping centre before running away.
The CPS Hate Crime Report details that from 2009-2010, racial and religiously aggravated hate crime (RARA) made up the highest volume of offences at 12,927, with offences against the person comprising 42% of those cases. Examples of such hate crimes include the pulling of hijabs and niqabs, verbal abuse, physical abuse, spitting and bullying in schools. It is the painful truth that most of these cases go unreported and the trauma that many victims go through every day is unaddressed. Imagine the plight of a young Muslim child who has to attend school amid cries of “Your father is Osama” or “Where’s your Uncle Saddam?” Adults are no better; it is not uncommon for Muslim men with beards or women wearing hijabs to find people on the tube moving away, refusing to sit near them, or passing racist comments. It is amazing that there are almost 2 billion Muslims in the world, and yet the actions of a few apparently determine the character and intentions of so many.
In recent years, there has also been a significant increase in attacks on Islamic institutions: mosques, centres and organisations. The University of Exeter’s European Muslim Research Centre published a report entitled “Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: UK Case Studies 2010” as part of a project to document anti-Muslim crimes over a ten year period. The cases reported are disturbing, to say the least, involving pigs heads being fixed to mosque entrances or minarets, petrol bombs, bricks, eggs and stones being thrown at and into mosques, serious physically violent attacks on imams and staff, vandalism, racist graffiti, messages and death threats.
It is for this reason that JAN Trust launched it’s Say No To Hate Crime campaign to counter these attacks. The aims are to raise awareness of Islamophobia, allow people to identify that they have actually been victims of a crime by clarifying what hate crimes are, and highlight how they can lead to distressing consequences for victims who will often never speak out.
The website also provides victims with the ability to report crimes online, which assists with the distressing prospect of dealing with the police. We also offer support, guidance and advice to victims/ potential victims on how to stay safe and seek help. The website also acts as a tool for professionals who might deal with potential victims or work with minority ethnic communities who might be subjected to hate crimes or racist attacks.
Many organisations, such as JAN Trust find that there is often a stigma attached to combatting Islamophobia, which is really a form of Islamophobia in itself. This is why there is a growing need to facilitate social cohesion by raising awareness of the issue, promoting the practice of religious freedom, and drowning out the influential media and political voices that paint all Muslims the same colour.
We believe that this will help thousands of victims say NO to hate crime and to Islamophobia, and live as they have the right to – without fear of attack, discrimination or judgement.