New comment piece published today on the Telegraph Online’s ‘Comment’ section. To view the article, click here.
The text of the piece is also reproduced below:
The worrying rise of attacks fuelled by hatred
Both anti-Semitic and Islamophobic incidents have risen recently as British society becomes more sharply divided, says Chris Allen.
Published: 12:27PM GMT 12 Feb 2010
Last year saw the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents in the UK since recording began in 1984. In a report by the Community Security Trust (CST), a total of 924 incidents including extreme violence, threats to human life and abusive behaviour were recorded, an increase of 69 per cent from the previous year.
The true picture is much worse, as many victims of anti-Semitic attacks are either unable or unwilling to report such crimes. Perhaps the most worrying aspect of this is that attacks of this nature are even more prevalent when you consider the strong similarities between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, which is also on the rise along with its associated incidents.
Both anti-Semitic and Islamophobic incidents peak around ‘trigger events’ both here and elsewhere in the world. For example, the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza caused a peak in incidents between January and February 2009. The report links the next highest number of recorded incidents in September to greater visibility of Jewish people in public spaces due to key Jewish festivals.
Similarly, Islamophobic incidents rise after ‘trigger events’ and are perpetrated against the most visible Muslims, in particular Muslim women who wear headscarves and other forms of Islamic attire. These ‘trigger events’ can also be seen elsewhere, for example when Danish Embassies were attacked as a result of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy.” Such incidents have caused death and serious injury but the consequential fear and distress is felt much more widely and, as with the reporting of anti-Semitic incidents, research has shown that the vast majority of Islamophobic incidents remain un-reported. Even where reported, official sources rarely differentiate between religion and race and unlike CST, no single Muslim organisation is collecting data nationwide – there is now a desperate need to better evidence the extent of Islamophobia.
Islamophobia does not appear to be being taken seriously by the Government, the media or the general public and the situation is becoming increasingly dire – why this is remains unclear. It could be because of a lack of understanding and recognition of the seriousness of Islamophobia; it could be because little ‘hard evidence’ exists; it could also be that anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic attitudes are becoming more socially acceptable. Whatever the reason though, it is clear that neither Islamophobia – nor indeed anti-Semitism – are going to quickly or easily disappear.
Last week’s bleak report on Islamophobic hate crime in London from the European Muslim Research Centre argues that fears and misunderstandings of Muslims were increasingly providing a basis for violent acts. The report found that Muslim Londoners face a threat of violence and intimidation from three primary groups: small violent nationalist groups with similar ideologies as the British National Party; street gangs with no allegiances to the far-right; and a small number of others who appear to be acting on prejudices gained via negative media portrayals of Muslims as terrorists and security threats.
But hate crimes are just the tip of the iceberg. Anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic attitudes are also increasingly commonplace. As the British Social Attitudes Survey recently highlighted, not only are Muslims the least popular religious community in Britain today but over half the population would be bothered by a large mosque being built in their community. Neither of these attitudes are specifically Islamophobic but they do suggest a hardening of attitudes especially when Muslims and Islam are considered against other religions. As Professor David Voas provocatively put it, Muslims are increasingly being understood as posing a threat to British society.
Whilst the CST has a crucial role in monitoring and recording anti-Semitic incidents, solving these problems should not be left to the victims’ communities. Whether anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, racism or indeed anything similar, there needs to be a commitment from the politicians, public servants, police, media and general public to address these unwanted and unnecessary discriminations and hatreds head-on.
As was noted at a University of Birmingham conference last December on the issue of Islamophobia, now is the time to get the influential decision-makers to think hard about what still needs to be done. If we do not, then British society will become less fair and less equal, more divided and more disparate and the spectres of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia will continue to rear their ugly heads. If we do, then we will begin the process of socially marginalising Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in the same way that we have racism since the 1970s.
Dr Chris Allen, Research Fellow, Institute of Applied Social Studies, University of Birmingham