In 2011, Baroness Warsi, who was at that time the UK Minister for Faith and Communities, famously said that anti-Muslim hatred had “passed the dinner table test” in the UK. Her remarks drew a lot of attention but were a simple reflection of reality.
Reinforced by certain media outlets and personalities, as well as some political figures, the expression of anti-Muslim sentiments has become more socially acceptable than ever in the UK and across Europe.
Inevitably, this prejudice has not been confined to the “dinner table”. Hate crime statistics have shown a dramatic rise in attacks on minority communities, with Muslims bearing the brunt of the hostility. Following the Manchester bombing in May 2017, there was a five-fold rise in hate crimes against Muslims, including attacks on mosques, individual Muslims and online abuse.
However, the trend had already been long established. Figures show that between 2013 and 2017, there was, on average, one incident a week against a mosque in the UK, with other factors, including the Brexit vote and the rise of new forms of fascism, also contributing to the problem.
What is Islamophobia?
The term “Islamophobia” has been attacked by some in the media, based on the misconception that it is an attempt to exempt the theology of Islam from criticism. But Islamophobia has nothing to do with theology. The Runneymede Trust defines it as the “distinction, exclusion, preference against or restriction towards Muslims, or those perceived to be Muslims” that leads to those individuals being unable to enjoy the same rights as any other UK citizen. Islamophobia poses a serious threat not just to Muslims, but also to the cohesion of UK society.
In an effort to combat the danger of Islamophobia, a number of groups have been set up, of which one of the most prominent is Tell MAMA. Founded in 2012 by Fiyaz Mughal, it aimed to provide a focal point for the reporting of anti-Muslim hatred, and for the provision of support for those affected by Islamophobia. It also performs an important role in documenting and analysing Islamophobic incidents and lobbying local and national government using this evidence.
One of the strengths of the Tell MAMA organisation is that it learns from and works with other groups dedicated to tackling hate crime. For example, Tell MAMA has worked closely with the Community Security Trust, which performs a similar role in combating antisemitism, and the two groups have produced a booklet, entitled “Hate Crime: A Guide For Those Affected”, which provides advice and information for any individual affected by hate crime.
There are a number of groups dedicated to tackling Islamophobia and hate crime at a community level, and one of the most inspiring is Nisa-Nashim, a network of women from the Muslim and Jewish communities who come together to take part in projects that promote understanding and tackle both Islamophobia and antisemitism. In addition to challenging Islamophobia, the group is also working to close the gulf that sometimes exists between Muslim and Jewish families, and, as it bypasses the traditional power structures of the mosque and the synagogue, Nisa-Nashim also offers the opportunity for more women to take up leadership roles within their communities.
Anti-Muslim Hatred Group
Following the 2010 General Election, the efforts of Baroness Warsi led to the creation of the Anti-Muslim Hatred Group, which brings together a number of Muslim experts and government departments in an attempt to provide a concerted and comprehensive approach to tackling Islamophobia. The Group has pursued a number of objectives, including tackling the influence of the far right, making it easier for Muslims to report public incidents of hatred, improving the way that the media talks about Muslims, and the protection of mosques.
The group has had several successes, including persuading the Home Office to fund the protection of mosques to the tune of £2m a year – an amount that was increased following the Finsbury Park mosque attack in 2017. They have also secured funding for Tell MAMA and improved the way that the police record Islamophobic crime, making it easier to identify and analyse. In addition, they are working with the Independent Press Standards Association to improve the way that the UK media reports on Muslims and issues associated with the Muslim community.
The work of these organisations has been vital in helping to counter the rise of Islamophobia in the UK, and it is crucial that these groups and others like them are supported with the resources they need to ensure that there is zero tolerance for Islamophobia in all areas of UK society.