Urgent action needed to tackle Islamophobia

Sabby Dahlu is Secretary of One Society Many Cultures. She comments on the unreported Islamophobia that still hurts many British Muslims.

Sabby Dahlu is Secretary of One Society Many Cultures.

The recent report Islamophobia and anti-Muslim Hate Crime: UK case studies, published by the European Muslim Research Centre based at the University of Exeter, documents the grim reality of a sharp increase in violence against Muslims and their religious institutions in Britain since 2001. Whether it is assaults on individual Muslims or arson attacks on mosques much goes unreported in the media, so little is understood outside the communities subject to this wave of violence.

For twelve months a team of researchers investigated the intimidation and discrimination experienced by Muslim communities. Amongst their findings are a disturbing number of assaults on Muslim women wearing hijabs, niqabs or burkas, incidents that have invariably taken place in public places – streets, shopping centres, trains or buses – and in full view of passers-by and onlookers who have generally not intervened to help. The researchers came across many harrowing incidents alongside what they describe as the more “mundane” assaults such as a mother being punched and abused by an unknown assailant while returning home on a bus from a shopping centre while her petrified infant daughter watched on.

The report reveals a dramatic rise in attacks on mosques, Islamic institutions and other Muslim organisations with arson and criminal damage now widespread. Particularly vulnerable have become the mosques in isolated Muslim communities – such as in market towns and suburbs – as they do not have the resources or support to defend themselves against this political violence.

Muslims face a particular threat of Islamophobic violence from politically motivated attackers including from individuals and gangs not aligned to the extremist nationalism of the English Defence League and the British National Party.

A number of mosques, such as the East London Mosque in Whitechapel, are highlighted because of their success at tackling arson attacks and intimidation by far right thugs whilst at the same time being at the forefront of tackling al-Qaeda inspired violent extremism. The report’s authors note that these mosques are often demonised and wrongly conflated with extremism by a small number of lazy journalists and some politicians, when in fact these are the mosques with the track record of combating terrorism.

The findings illustrate the extent to which the media and right wing politicians have helped fan anti-Muslim feeling. Recent examples of this growing hysteria include; tabloid hostility whipped up against halal meat in schools, wild claims about Sharia law, alongside English Defence League demonstrations chanting slogans such as ‘Burn the Mosque’.

It is important politicians stand up against this tide of prejudice and defend the long established freedoms of religion and cultural expression that are now under attack. To roll back this assault requires those who oppose this vilification of Muslims to promote a different dialogue, one that celebrates the benefits of our multicultural society including the Muslim communities currently under attack. That is the best way to defeat the right wing’s offensive against freedom of thought, conscience, religion and cultural expression.

These issues will be discussed at a conference – Speak out against racism and Islamophobia – on Saturday 11th December, 10-5.30pm in London. Addressing the event will be Jack Dromey MP (Shadow Minister for Communities and local Government), Shabana Mahmood MP (Shadow Home Office Minister), Ken Livingstone, Doreen Lawrence OBE, alongside Dr. Jonathan Githens-Mazer (one of the authors of the report). To register at the conference visit here.

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