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Race, Crime and Justice Research skills

Muslim hate crime and Islamophobia

The next post in our Race and Crime series is an introduction to Muslim hate crime from Natascha Wooliams and Katja Swinnock.

What is Islamphobia?

‘Hate crime’ is not limited to physical attacks, it includes a wide range of criminal activity from offensive graffiti, damage to property, harassment, intimidation and verbal abuse. Anti-Muslim hate crime falls under the category of ‘religious hate crime’, where the crime is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a prejudice against a person’s religion or perceived religion.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the first recorded use of the term ‘Islamophobia’ was in an article in the journal ‘Insight’ on 4th February 1991 as an extension of the term ‘xenophobia’. ‘Islamophobia’ means a dread or hatred of Islam, which is extended to a fear and hate of all Muslims.

Emmanuel Huybrechts / Wikimedia Commons

The Office for National Statistics, Ministry of Justice and the Home Office published a recent report which found that hate crimes in general are on the increase in England and Wales. In particular, it was found that between 2012 and 2013, 35,885 (85%) of these were race related hate crimes and 1,573 (4%) were religious hate crimes [awaiting ref].

Following the terrorist attacks on September 11th 2001 in New York, assaults on Muslims across Europe intensified. The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia reported a noticeable rise in verbal attacks against Muslims in all 14 member states and a rise in physical attacks in the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK immediately after 9/11 [awaiting ref] .

The role of the media

The media helps to fuel a negative image of Muslims by sensationalising Muslim crime-related stories, leading to mass moral panic and influencing the behaviour and attitudes of the public. A 2002 study conducted by Elizabeth Poole found that press coverage relating to Muslims and Islam in British national newspapers had increased by approximately 270% over the previous decade. Of these sensationalised stories 91% were deemed to be negative. With the media having such an influence on public attitudes such stereotyping of Muslims has the potential to lead to religious hate crime.

What does Islamophobia look like?

Physical attacks are the most public form of hate crime. Incidents from across Europe have drawn the attention of the world media, including arson attacks on Muslim schools (such as in Nijmegen, The Netherlands) and bricks thrown at mosques (in Belfast, Manchester, London, Southend and Glasgow).

But more serious attacks have occurred in the UK. An Afghani taxi driver was assaulted and left paralysed from the neck down by three white men who referred to the 9/11 attacks in New York. A woman in Swindon was beaten in the head with a baseball bat by two white men, after hearing them shout ‘Here’s a Muslim!’.

However, hate crime is not limited to physical attacks, it has a growing prevalence online. The non-government organisation Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks), which allows people from across England to report any form of anti-Muslim abuse, found that of the 548 verified incidents reported to them, 73% took place online.

Online hate crime has been shown to intensify after crimes and attacks by Muslims extremists, for example, the 2010 Rotherham abuse scandal, the beheadings of journalists by Islamic State militants in 2014 and most recently the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015. Following the Paris attacks Twitter saw the trending hashtag #KillAllMuslims.

Albert Mestre / Wikimedia Commons

The role of legislation

After the creation of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, there was a campaign in Britain for Islamophobia to be recognised as a form of hate crime. The Government initially rejected calls to expand race hate crime to encompass religion, arguing that most Islamophobic attacks were at least partly motivated by racism and that existing provisions could be used to punish religious hate crime offenders. However, this failed to acknowledge the symbolic importance of recognising a victim’s religious identity. Their eventual response was to simply add religion to the legislation in 2001, rather than to review the intricate details of victims’ experiences. This still does not address the specific hate received by Muslims, however, it is a step in the right direction.

The role of policing

The UK has had a strategy for countering international terrorism in place since 2003; CONTEST. This has had a complex impact on relations between the police and the Muslim community, because they are treated as both suspect communities but also as communities that the police need to work with and protect.

It could be argued that the policing of Muslim communities is motivated by public security rather than the need to protect Muslims. Strategies designed to reassure the general public could potentially reinforce the impression of Muslims as a homogenous ‘suspect community’, potentially triggering hate crime against Muslims, rather than protecting them from it. In order to combat these negative attitudes from the wider community the relationship between the Muslim community and the police must be addressed.

In summary

It is clear that hate crimes specifically directed at Muslims are an increasing problem in modern society. The influence of the media and the growth of online activity such as blogs, websites and social media has given way to a greater variety of hate crimes, no longer limited to physical or verbal attacks but taking place in cyberspace. If the government (via the police and legislation) are to tackle this problem it is imperative that they work with, and not against, the UK’s many Muslim communities.

Further reading at the Race Relations Resource Centre:

By aiucentre

An open access library specialising in the study of race, ethnicity and migration. Part of the University of Manchester and based at Manchester Central Library. www.racearchive.manchester.ac.uk.

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