In preparation of my public lecture in Preston tomorrow – details available here – as part of Interfaith Week, the Lancashire Evening Post yesterday published a very good interview and feature about my research. This can be read by clicking here.

Alternatively, you can read the article below which is reproduced from the Lancashire Evening Post’s website:

Islamophobia: Myth or Reality?

Discrimination is a daily reality for many Muslims – but the vast majority of abuse goes unreported.

Dr Chris Allen, lecturer at the at the School of Social Policy at University of Birmingham, says a lack of a clear definition of what constitutes the discrimination that Muslims face, known as Islamophobia, contributing to the problem.

What many people fail to recognise, he says, is the difference between disagreeing with Muslim beliefs and promoting hatred.

“Islamophobia is not about disagreeing, criticising or condemning,” he explains. “But as a rule of thumb, when that disagreement, criticism or condemnation – including promoting stereotypes and mistruths – is used to intentionally promote, encourage or justify discrimination, hatred, bigotry or even violence, it is likely that this will be motivated and driven by Islamophobia or manifested and expressed as Islamophobia.”

One of the main problems, Dr Allen says, is while other forms of discrimination have precedents in law, there is still no legal definition of what Islamophobia is.

As a result, data about the levels and prevalence of Islamophobia is lacking.

Dr Allen, who is giving a lecture on the problem at the Salvation Army on Thursday as part of Guild Interfaith Week, said research shows a third of all Muslims experience discrimination on a regular basis, with many experiencing abuse on average once every eight weeks.

“Most worryingly 79% of all Islamophobic incidents are not reported to police or other institutions,” Dr Allen says. “A new government funded scheme – TELL MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) – is now beginning to fill this lack of knowledge by collecting and collating data about anti-Muslim attacks and incidents.”

In Lancashire the building of new mosques has led to lots of debate. But is that considered to be Islamophobic? His lecture comes on the back of the uproar caused by celebrity chef Clarissa Dickson Wright who said she felt like an “pariah and an outcast” when visiting a mainly Asian part of Leicester.

Dr Allen says: “The building and development of mosques all over the country are currently attracting the attention of many people. Whilst it is not Islamophobic to oppose a mosque, it comes back to the reasons and motivations for doing so that determine whether or not opposition is Islamophobic.

“My research has recently been exploring the opposition to the proposed Dudley mosque in the West Midlands. For some, their opposition is based on sound and valid reasons, for example if the buildings fail to meet planning regulations or the land has been set aside for regeneration activities. Where it becomes problematic is when opposition begins to state that ‘Muslims don’t belong here’ or that they are ‘taking over our towns and cities’. You have to try and be objective and balanced about these things which is extremely difficult because nothing is black and white.”

So how does the problem vary across the country? Dr Allen explains: “The landscape is extremely changeable with different drivers causing problems in different areas.

“In more densely populated areas, they can become targeted because it is seen that they are ‘taking over’ or ‘Islamifying’ areas. National and international incidents can also prompt an increase in attacks. After the convictions of the grooming gang in Rochdale, TELL MAMA saw a sharp increase in attacks in and around the Manchester area.”

In Lancashire, he says there was an increase in attacks when Blackburn MP Jack Straw said veils worn by some Muslim women were a barrier to integration.

He says: “Following his comments, in Lancashire as indeed elsewhere, the number of assaults – both verbal and physical – against Muslim women who wore the niqab increased. 
“This is not to say that Jack Straw’s comments were Islamophobic, but that national issues can result in a rise in incidents at the street level.” Dr Allen says it is “difficult to state” whether the situation is better or worse compared to ten years ago. He says: “A decade ago we were in the aftermath of 9/11. As my research for the European Parliament highlighted back in 2002, there was a rise in attacks against Muslims right across the whole of Europe. Today things are different. While the shadow of 9/11 still looms long, today we have groups such as the English Defence League that increase tensions in different areas. In fact recent findings from the TELL MAMA service initially suggest that around a third of all anti-Muslim incidents are perceived to be perpetrated by those affiliated to far-right organisations.”

Recently Dr Allen has been working with Lancashire Constabulary and last week he ran a training workshop at the force’s headquarters in Preston.

He said: “In addition to sharing the latest research findings with the police, the event sought to raise awareness of new trends and themes in Islamophobic incidents, the workshop also provided a safe space where both police officers and practitioners could discuss sensitive and controversial issues.”

Dr Allen’s lecture Islamophobia Myth or Reality? Will be held on Thursday at the Salvation Army, Harrington Street, Preston.

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