BRITAIN is a country of remarkable tolerance, but those who are eroding this fundamental value must be held to account.
Earlier this month, as part of National Hate Crime Awareness Week, the Home Office released new data showing a 29 per cent increase in the number of such offences in the past year.
Police forces across England and Wales recorded almost 80,400 hate crimes in 2016-2017. As an independent member of the Government’s anti-Muslim hatred working group, I find these figures deeply troubling.
They suggest that the unprecedented surge has occurred due to the Brexit vote and an increase in terrorist attacks in the UK. However, some claim that these figures are part of an overblown propaganda or that the hate crime epidemic is a self-sustaining myth.
Whatever the factors, it is hard to dispute that hate crime is neither a meaningless nor an imaginary myth rather a reality for many Muslims.
The staggering statistics are not simply numbers – these hate crimes have, in the past, snatched away someone’s father or grandfather on his way back from the mosque or resulted in a pregnant woman losing her baby in a violent attack while shopping in the supermarket.
There have been many incidents in which the headscarves of women have been snatched in the street, and the victims being asked to leave Britain. All of these are enough to make anyone feel scared and vulnerable in their own home, let alone on the street.
Earlier in the month, figures revealed that police forces had recorded 110 hate crimes directed at Muslim places of worship between March and July this year, up from 47 over the same six-month period in 2016.
This trend of attacking Muslims and their institutions is worldwide. In the US, the figures showed that between January to July 2017, every month nine mosques were targets of threats, vandalism or arson.
Anti-Muslim prejudice is often perpetuated by fear and a sense that Muslims are taking over our jobs, our homes and our country, leading to a polarised society.
This fear is compounded by wrongly dovetailing terrorism to Islam. This month the UK Office for National Statistics, in its quarterly update, reported a 13 per cent increase in all police-recorded offences across England and Wales. President Donald Trump erroneously links this rise to the “spread of radical Islamic terror”.
This hate-filled tweet was immediately used by far-right groups to stir up hatred towards Muslims. The newspaper columnist Katie Hopkins quoted Trump’s tweet with a reference to “child rape squads”.
The anxiety and suspicion towards Muslims is prompted by not only the far-right movement and populist leaders but also some mainstream journalists.
Many studies have already shown that mainstream media reporting about Muslim communities is contributing to an atmosphere of rising hostility towards British Muslims.
The inflammatory headlines such as ‘Christian child forced into Muslim foster care’ or articles talking about sex grooming as a ‘Muslim problem’ either conflate an isolated incident with the religion of the perpetrator or offer a skewed portrayal of Muslims. The far-right groups seize on such stories as a vindication for Islamophobia.
Islamophobia is so ripe that Islamophobic hate crimes against non-Muslims are also happening, according to a recent study, because the victims are perceived to be Muslims.
Britain is not a rancid, rage-fuelled place but the soaring hate crimes, and in particular anti-Muslim hatred, must be tackled through legislation, the criminal justice system, objective media reporting and education.
The Government must continue to monitor the rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes as a key priority and challenge those who stir up hatred; the effective implementation of the hate crime action plan will be a milestone.
Education is critical in preserving our values of tolerance and embracing others. No one is born hating others – if hating can be taught, so can love.
The regular smears about Islam or Muslims by those in high offices and the sections of the mainstream media, and the conflation of Islam with criminality, must stop.
There is a real danger that such prejudice will further stoke up anti-Muslim hatred and provide fuel for an already growing number of acts of violence against the Muslim community across the UK.
Acknowledging that hate crimes are a reality for many in Britain is the first step to tackling hatred.
Qari Asim is an imam in Leeds and a member of the Government’s anti-Muslim hatred working group. He can be reached at @QariAsim