Siema Iqbal argues that while the government announcement that anti-Muslim hate crimes will be recorded is welcome, a lot more needs to be done to ensure a fairer society for all races and religions.
During National Hate Crime Awareness Week David Cameron brought hope to the Muslim community by announcing that police forces will be recording anti-Muslim hate crime as a separate category bringing it in line with other hate crimes.
Uniformly recording anti-Muslim hate crime will ensure the scale of the problem is documented, but recording alone should never be the metric we use to assess victory against racism and bigotry. A decline in hate crimes, against Muslims and others, is what we need for that.
Official Home Office figures demonstrate how necessary this law was as police forces in England and Wales recorded a 45% increase in religious hate crime in 2013/14 and a 43% increase on 2014/15. Yet we are still a long way off marking victory and there are challenges ahead.
Reporting hate crime
Victims of Islamophobia, as of any sort of crime, tend to be the most vulnerable members of the community and as such also are the ones who are unlikely to report the crime so the first challenge is to encourage reporting of hate crime itself.
Only 48% of hate crime comes to the attention of the police force according to figures from the combined CSEW surveys. This became evident at a recent Islamophobia event in Oldham where the number of hate crimes that had occurred in the small group of approximately 20 Muslim women was shocking and yet not a single one had been reported.
When questioned, explanations such as ‘the police won’t do anything’, ‘where can I report hate crime?’ to ‘I can’t speak English so the police won’t understand me.’ were offered. These are barriers that need to be actively discussed.
The victims of hate crime are the ones who will be unaware of the different methods of reporting which include online, third party recording centres as well as ringing Crime Stoppers. Breaking down barriers to reporting is crucial and requires the police to ‘step up’ and encourage victims to seek legal remedy for their hate experience.
Perhaps creating reporting centres at mosques to make reporting more accessible and remove any language barriers should be facilitated?
Religious hate crimes are more likely to take the form of “criminal damage and arson” and until the recent welcome announcement where David Cameron proposed funding to protect places of worship, the government had been slow to provide protection to mosques.
But is the announcement about funding security sufficient when there are “mosque buster” campaigns thriving in some communities against mosque developments? We are already dealing with the seedlings of hate.
Local councils need to take a lead on challenging low level bigotry around places of worship in local communities because high fences are not sufficient alone to make for good neighbours.
Communities defined by race trace their origins back to a place, ie Sikhs to Northern India, whereas communities defined by religion are united by belief rather than where they originated from.
Under current legislation the law treats communities defined by race differently to those defined by religion. The Racial and Religious Hatred Act states the burden of proof required to prosecute an offender under the incitement to racial hatred is much lower than that required for religious hatred.
Currently merely insulting or abusing someone defined by race is enough to charge someone with incitement to racial hatred, as it should be. However, contrast this with the incitement to religious hatred threshold where is it legally permissible to insult , abuse or even use violent to threatening words against a person defined by religion.
It only becomes a crime against religion where a clear intent to stir up religious hatred can be proven. As this is such a difficult thing to do, it’s no surprise that not a single person has been prosecuted with incitement to religious hatred compared to many who have with racial hatred.
Therefore, one could argue there is no truth to the statement ‘the police won’t do anything’ but reporting hate crime provides the police with intelligence and a mere warning alone could stop a perpetrator from going on to commit a more serious Islamophobic crime such as the recent cases of Mohammed Saleem and Muhsin Ahmed – both elderly men murdered whilst returning home from praying at the mosque.
There is however a clear argument for the fact that legislation does need to change and be made fairer so communities can report hate crimes with the confidence that the police forces have the power to effectively prosecute.
Islamophobia doesn’t just exist on the streets as instances of headscarves being ripped off, being spat upon or verbally abused. It can also manifest in the playground as bullying.
Childline reported a 69 % increase in bullying in the playground in 2012/13 with terms such as ‘terrorist’, ‘bomber’ and ‘go back to your own country ‘ being the most commonly used terms. This would imply it is likely to be Muslim children being targeted by the racist bullying.
The capability of teachers to deal with bullying incidents is therefore of vital importance so that schools are environments in which children prosper, not ones they fear or avoid.
A report compiled by Show Racism the Red Card on bullying in schools found that 83% of 48 teachers had witnessed racist attitudes or behaviour amongst students, including name calling and stereotyping. In addition, 31% of respondents admitted to witnessing racist attitudes or behaviour among teachers.
Hate crime and prejudices need to be tackled at their infancy and both pupils AND teachers need educating about other religions and cultures. Working together to develop teaching materials to educate young people on Islamophobia, as well as all forms of hate crime, and opening debate rather than stifling it through the PREVENT scheme is surely fundamental to tackling hate?
It’s clear there are some parts of the media which propagate hate towards Muslims.
Content analysis of 974 newspaper articles about British Muslims and Islam in the press from 2000 to 2008 found ‘terrorism’ accounted for 36% of stories and ‘Muslim extremism’ accounted for 11% of all stories. The study consequently concluded that the coverage of British Muslims tended to focus on Muslims as a ‘threat’ or as ‘a problem’.
A study by Lancaster University found that every time a Muslim was referred to as ‘moderate’ there were 21 instances of Muslim being referred to with ‘extremist’ references and a study by Cardiff university highlighted the most commonly used adjective is was ‘radical’ and the noun was ‘terrorist.’
Therefore it’s hardly surprising that some non-Muslims will have an inaccurate view of Islam and Muslims. It is important to improve media reporting standards and ensure the recommendations made by the Leveson inquiry on press ethics, which became law in the Royal charter in 2013 are imposed.
These are just some of the future challenges that need to be addressed both by the Muslim community and the government. We have a duty to be proactive citizens. The government has an equal responsibility to visit the communities and victims affected by Hate crimes themselves and start dialogue with organisations which tackle Islamophobia rather than rather than work with a Community Engagement Forum made up of members who challenge ‘extremism’.
However the journey has begun and will continue to be built upon during Islamophobia Awareness Month in November to ensure a fair and safe society is created not just for all races but also religions.