The recent Paris attack incited a broad rise in Islamophobia in the UK. Muslims from all across the country are being targeted on the street, on public transport, at work, and at educational institutes. Tell-MAMA – a national body to monitor anti-Muslim hate crime reported a 300% rise in Islamophobic incidents since the horrific attacks in Paris on November 14, 2015.
The reported anti-Muslim hate attacks range from general abuse and threats to extreme violence with victims having age range from 3 year old child to over 60. Majority of the perpetrators are middle aged white males. The anger and hate against the Muslims seem to be increasing every passing day. The most worrying element is that the prime victims of these attacks are Muslim women who are visible because of their veil and modest Islamic clothing which make them visible at the street-level. A vast majority of the cases against Muslim women are taking place on public transport, where either fellow passengers or the bus drivers abuse them. There is a common pattern of the kind of comments made against them and most of the perpetrators hold them responsible for the Paris attacks. In some cases, mothers were verbally abused and threatened in front of their children. In one of the most recent cases, the perpetrator pointed finger at the 5 month old baby of a mother in East London and said “Are you going to brainwash her to bomb people”. In another case, a Muslim female student was threatened to death on a bus by an elderly male near Liverpool.
Such attacks are not just restricted to South Asian or Arab women but the White British converts to Islam are also experiencing the same hatred targeted towards them because of their faith. Right after the Paris attack, a white female convert was approached by a white male in South London who verbally abused her because of her hijab and abaya.
Even the school children are not spared of this targeted hate campaign against the Muslim communities in the UK. There is a steady rise in attacks against the Muslim children at schools and in some extreme cases, the perpetrators were their own teachers who abused their Muslim faith and called them terrorists. Some very violent attacks have also been reported from the universities with the most recent case at the University of Edinburgh where two Muslim students (one of them was wearing a hijab) were spat at, physically and verbally abused and called ‘terrorists’.
Many attacks against the mosques and Islamic institutions have been reported as well. Recently, two mosques in Newport, South East wales, were vandalised with anti-Islamic graffiti in the aftermath of the Paris attacks.
Such appalling rise of Islamophobic hate crime in Britain is not a new phenomenon. There has been a consistent trend of anti-Muslim backlash after every terrorist attack locally or internationally. Tell MAMA project recorded a 275% ‘weekly increase’ of anti-Muslim hate crime after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris in January this year. Similarly, there was reported to be a 286% quarterly increase in such attacks after the murder of a British soldier, Drummer Lee Rigby, in May 2013.
There is no denial of the fact that all those who carried out terrorist attacks in Paris claimed themselves to be Muslims but more important is that Majority of the Muslims all around the world condemn violence in every shape and form. Similarly, the overwhelming British Muslims always came forward and disassociated themselves with all those individuals and groups who perpetrate violence in the name of Islam. However, their efforts could barely protect them from organised hate campaigns running against them in full swing.
Islamophobia in Britain has a long history with its roots going back to pre-7/7 and 9/11 eras when a British think tank, the Runnymede Trust, popularised this term in one of their research reports in 1997. Unfortunate incidents like Paris attack act as a catalyst to anti-Muslim campaigns flourishing in the British society. Some key actors to promote Islamophobia in Britain are far right nationalist groups like Britain First and English Defence League who are proactively demonising Muslim communities in Britain by holding them responsible for all the ills of the British society.
Media is another crucial element to escalate islamophobia in the UK. Certain sections of the print and electronic media have been promoting anti-Muslim sentiments in Britain for a long time. In 2008, Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies produced a research report entitled ’Images of Islam in the UK’ which suggested that two third of newspaper stories say British Muslims are ‘Threat’ or a ‘Problem’. By continuously and deliberately mentioning the religion of criminals, they played a central role in arousing public’s sentiments against the Muslim communities in Britain.
The intensification of Islamophobia in the UK has deep impacts on wider Muslim communities in Britain. Their sense of vulnerability and collective victimisation as a faith community has increased over the years because of unfair Government policies and irresponsible media coverage.
The horrific attacks against innocent people in Paris were as shocking for Muslims as they were for the rest of the world. However, as much as Muslims are the greatest victims of terrorist ideology, they are held responsible and made a ‘suspect community’ by certain segments of society because of their faith. This environment is unhealthy and dangerous especially for the younger generations of Muslims who are born and bred in Britain and consider this country as their home. It’s not just the Muslim communities but British society at large must come forward and challenge the hate narratives against the Muslims. The Government needs a policy shift and must introduce more ‘inclusive’ policies instead of focusing on ‘preventive’ measures – which have been miserably failed to tackle the challenges of extremism in Britain.