Muslims are main victims of anti-religious hate crimes in Leeds

Statistics released by West Yorkshire police have revealed that most anti-religious hate crimes recorded between September 2015 and August 2016 were against Muslims.

West Yorkshire Police released their hate crime statistics – for crimes committed in Leeds – over the previous year at an event organized by Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND).

Taking place at the Lingfield Centre in Leeds, one of the keynote speakers was Chief Superintendent Paul Money of West Yorkshire Police.

Between September 2015 and August 2015, he, alongside Harvinder Saimbhi of Leeds City Council, revealed most anti-religious hate crimes in Leeds targeted Muslims and Islam. There were a total of 60 religious based hate crimes, of which 43 had Muslim victims. The crimes peaked in July of this year, after the EU referendum result.

Supt. Money believes the number of crimes is likely to be much higher given, he acknowledged, many victims are unaware of what a hate crime actually is. It is also believed many victims are unwilling report crimes.

Shahad Adris of MEND feels a better relationship needs to develop between Muslims in Leeds and the police for the Muslims to be comfortable reporting hate crimes. One way he feels this can happen is through increasing the number of Muslims in the West Yorkshire Police force. “For things to change the police need to take positive action towards recruiting Muslim officers, and retaining them,” he said.

mend-2The highly controversial – and widely discredited – nationwide counter-terrorism policy Prevent was brought up by an audience member. Described as being a “shambles” and “divisive,” she criticised Leeds City Council’s attempt to bring it under the fold of “safeguarding policy” and viewed this as an attempt to present it in a less contentious context. Last month former Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham said Muslims feel they can’t report hate crimes they suffer because the Prevent programme renders the police untrustworthy in their eyes.

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Supt. Money was unable to respond to the issue of Prevent because of a reported “time shortage.” But he did say that he is “very serious” about tackling anti-Muslim hate crime and he acknowledges his force – the fourth largest in England and Wales – has previously not done enough to engage with the community.

Approximately 50 people attended the event. At one point Shahab Adris asked audience to raise the raise their hands if they had experienced Islamophobia. Around ten hands went up, mostly of women. One lady commented: “We’ve all been victims of Islamophobia at some point.”

The event was organized as part of National Hate Crime Awareness Week. A hate crime is defined as “any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim, or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice based on a person’s religion, faith or belief; disability; gender identity; race, ethnicity or nationality or sexual orientation.”

As the relationship between Muslims and the police across England seems to wither, largely because of Prevent, some in Leeds think the work done locally by groups like MEND could buck the trend. The imam of Lingfield Centre, Imtiaz Ahmed, said the event left him feeling “empowered.” He feels a genuine attempt was made by the police to create positive progress. “People do care, things can happen, things can change,” he added.

It is ironic, but perhaps a sign of progress, that this anti-hate crime event was held in a building the EDL demonstrated outside three years ago when they heard it would be converted from an empty pub to a Muslim community centre.

There is acceptance however that anti-Muslim hate crime is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Shahab Adris believes Leeds will see a far higher number of cases in the next year. “Unless we curb the far-right we won’t see a decrease. Also, we can’t view anti-Muslim hate crimes in isolation. Media demonization plays a huge role. Muslims need to get involved in media.”

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