Time to tackle Islamophobia once and for all

Posted by Caabu on 23 Jun 2017

By Sophie Marjoribanks

23 June 2017

In the wake of the Finsbury Park mosque attack on 19 June , newspapers have reported the dramatic rise in anti-Muslim hate crime following the recent London and Manchester attacks by ISIS-inspired individuals. Figures such as the fivefold increase in Manchester are certainly shocking, but they tempt us to believe that levels of anti-Muslim bigotry were insignificant prior to March 2017. The revelation that around one third of cases which have been referred to Channel (the early-intervention process for those referred from Prevent) concern individuals with extreme right-wing views should not come as such a surprise as perhaps it does.

The existence of far-right views among the British population is to a certain extent acknowledged; there are well known cases of far-right groups such as Britain First and the EDL, as well as the lesser known National Action, which was proscribed a terrorist group last year. These groups are worrying; however, perhaps more alarming are those who not only hold extreme right-wing views, but are also legitimised and humoured by mainstream media. The level of support for the UKIP-fuelled Leave campaign and confirmation this week that anti-immigrant prejudice played a key role in the result of the referendum, should remind us to take right-wing extremism seriously. A majority of the British public may see Nigel Farage as a comical figure, but his views have clearly become increasingly normalised and legitimised. As a member of Oxford University’s migration research centre says, “the unspeakable became not only speakable, but commonplace.”

A strong argument exists for hearing out those with extreme views and letting them speak, as banning or silencing them serves simply to strengthen their “outsider” image; some argue that labelling National Action a terrorist group only succeeds in increasing their notoriety. However, there is a danger. The likes of Farage and Katie Hopkins have become mainstream political and journalistic figures respectively, similarly to how Anjem Choudary has become an acceptable Muslim voice. Reassuringly, there has been considerable negative reaction to Tommy Robinson’s appearance on Good Morning Britain, with Ofcom receiving 72 complaints, many of which objected to Robinson’s views being given such a platform. It is not that Robinson should be banned; he should not. Rather, if Robinson - or Choudary (humorously compared here) - is given a platform, it should be done so responsibly, in recognition that it is an extremist who is speaking. Appearances by Nigel Farage and Katie Hopkins should also be questioned; there is no obligation to host them and their frequent appearances on mainstream channels risk drowning out moderate, rational voices who would debate responsibly. Ridicule may undermine their stances, but it also trivialises them.

A tendency to deny the widespread network of the far-right ideology and reduce instances of far-right terrorism to problems at the individual level, rather than a wider societal issue, has gained ground. Although Thomas Mair (murderer of Jo Cox MP) and Darren Osborne are both believed to have acted alone - labelled ‘lone-wolf’ terrorists - the existence of a far-right network must not be ignored. After all, when Khalid Masood killed a policeman outside Westminster, the lack of ISIS directive was hardly the focus of media reports; ISIS was quick to claim responsibility and discussions about its network were frequent.

By reducing Mair and Osborne’s actions to those of individuals, distinct from a wider ideological network, insufficient attention is given to the issue of anti-Muslim bigotry. While the Finsbury Park mosque attack rightfully filled the headlines this week and the aggression at Regent’s Park mosque on 21 June did get some media attention, as well as the bag of vomit thrown at two Muslim women last week, the prevalence of such bigotry may not be fully understood.

TellMAMA reports that spikes in anti-Muslim hate crime are seen in the aftermath of Islamist attacks, but it exists well beyond these headline events. In London alone, there were 1,260 instances of anti-Muslim hate crime between April 2016 and March 2017; this without the alarming increase in recent months. Furthermore, these figures are those of Police Recorded Crime, which in 2015 reported a total of 62,518 instances of hate crime, compared to the 222,000 reported by the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales. Under-reporting stemming from lack of trust in authorities is something to be considered when looking at the figures; it is for this reason that the government encourages individuals to report hate crime to TellMAMA or to a recently established website True Vision, rather than directly to authorities.

Anti-Muslim bigotry is both under-reported by those who suffer it and under-recognised by the rest of the population. With extreme views legitimised and normalised in our media and politics, the far right has grown without us even realising it; and with it, anti-Muslim bigotry. The sudden rise in cases of anti-Muslim hate crime is certainly reason to worry, but Islamophobia is something we should have been worrying about for years.

About the Author: 

Sophie Marjoribanks has just completed a BA in Politics from University College London and has previously worked in Morocco and Jordan.