There remains ‘a lack of political will’ to tackle Islamophobia, warns Government adviser
Around half of mosques and Muslim centres in Britain have been subjected to Islamophobic attacks since 9/11, academics have warned as the far-right English Defence League prepares to march to the south-London scene of Drummer Lee Rigby’s murder.
The figures are highlighted in a report which also found that the number of anti-Islamic attacks increased by as much as tenfold in the days following the Woolwich attack.
Meanwhile, research by The Independent shows Islamophobic attacks spreading across Britain, with mosques being set alight and Muslims targeted at home in the past month.
Despite the warning signs, a senior Government adviser told The Independent that there remains a “lack of political will” to take on the rise of Islamophobic attacks in Britain. The adviser, who did not want to be named, said that attempts to “tackle this issue – even before Woolwich – struggled to attract buy-in,” with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, identified as the primary source of frustration.
The Muslim community was warned yesterday of the dangers it faces from hate groups in a sermon delivered at 500 mosques. The piece said that high-profile cases of sexual grooming of children by small groups of Muslim men “hitting the headlines in a short space of time and the fallout from the Woolwich case will create a major challenge for the Muslim community”.
The trial date for the two men accused of murdering Drummer Rigby, Michael Adebolajo, 28, and Michael Adebowale, 22, will begin on 18 November, it was announced yesterday.
Professor Nigel Copsey, of Teesside University, the author of the new report which showed that between 40 and 60 per cent of mosques and other Islamic centres (around 700) had been targeted since 9/11 – said: “There has undoubtedly been a spike in anti-Muslim incidents since the Woolwich murder. An obvious concern now is whether the number of hate crime incidents return to ‘normal’ levels or whether Woolwich has been a game-changer in terms of increasing the underlying incidence of anti-Muslim hate over the longer term.”
His report is based largely on figures from the Islamophobia watchdog Tell Mama. It shows an increase of attacks to nearly nine per day in the immediate aftermath of the Woolwich killing, but settling back to around two per day over in the following weeks. Prof- essor Copsey added: “What is significant about our analysis is the extent to which the far right is implicated in anti-Muslim hate crime.”
Just this week, swastikas and the letters “EDL”, “KKK” and “NF” were sprayed on the walls of a mosque in Redditch. There were also reports of pigs’ heads being left at Muslim families’ homes and other attacks against individuals. There was also a attack on an Islamic centre in north London.
But Dr Matthew Goodwin, associate fellow at Chatham House and an expert on extremist groups, said that “the broader picture is more positive than we think. Young people are more at ease accepting Muslims in society.”
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “There is no place for anti-Muslim hatred or any kind of hatred in Britain, and we are committed to tackling this unacceptable scourge.”
Owen Jones: Islamophobia – for Muslims, read Jews. And be shocked
Imagine our alarm if nearly half the UK population said they believed that ‘there are too many Jews’
To be a prominent Muslim means suffering a daily diet of bigotry and even outright hatred. This week, M Hasan – who, other than my colleague Yasmin Ali-Brown, is Britain’s only prominent Muslim journalist – wrote of how, every day, he is attacked as a “jihadist” and a “terrorist”. He has been described as a “dangerous Muslim shithead”, a “moderate cockroach”, and worse. The message from his critics is clear: Muslims have no legitimate place in public life.
M Hasan was right to speak out, but it must not be left to Muslims alone to take on this bigotry. A tide of Islamophobia has swept Europe for many years, and – shamefully – all too few have taken a stand. Even many who regard themselves as “progressives” have either remained silent or even indulged anti-Muslim prejudice. It’s time for Muslims and non-Muslims alike to join forces against the most widespread – and most acceptable – form of bigotry of our times.
Think I’m exaggerating? Consider that the far-right’s main target of choice is no longer Jews or black people: it’s Muslims. The BNP portrays itself as a crusade against the “Islamification” of Britain; in the 2010 election, it launched a “Campaign Against Islam”. Its leader, Nick Griffin, describes Islam as “wicked” and a “cancer”, and has blamed Muslims for problems such as drugs and rape. The English Defence League stages frequent – and often intimidating – street rallies protesting against Muslims.
But anti-Muslim prejudice isn’t simply confined to the far-right fringes. I attended a Stockport sixth form with a large Muslim student population. The reality of their lives is all but airbrushed out of existence. When they appear at all, it’s generally as fanatics, extremists or a community somehow “harbouring” dangerous extremists. (When do Britain’s whites face the absurdity of being called on to crack down on far-right fanatics supposedly in their ranks?) One study took a selection of newspapers in a single week: 91 per cent of reports featuring Muslims were negative.
One of my Muslim fellow students was Dr Leon Moosavi, fast becoming a national authority on Islamophobia. He battles against the widespread denial that anti-Muslim prejudice is a problem. But consider that, in one poll conducted by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, 45 per cent of Britons agreed that “there are too many Muslims” in Britain. Imagine if nearly half the population admitted to believing that “there are too many Jews” in Britain: how loud would our alarm be?
Of course, it is not just a British problem: the poison of Islamophobia has infected Europe’s political mainstream. According to a Pew Research Center survey, nearly six out of 10 Europeans believe that Muslims were “fanatical”, and half believed they were “violent”. As here, the European far-right aims fire at Muslims above all other groups. In the Netherlands, an anti-Muslim party led by Geert Wilders is the third largest in parliament. Wilders compares the Koran to Mein Kampf, calls Islam a “Trojan Horse” in Europe and demands that the country’s 850,000 Muslims be paid to leave the country. Wilders doesn’t languish on the fringes: the current Dutch cabinet depended for two years on his party’s support.
Or take sleepy Switzerland, where the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) is the biggest party in the country’s Federal Assembly. The SVP won a referendum on the banning of minarets, which the party’s general secretary described as “symbols of Islamic power”. During the vote, Geneva’s mosque was repeatedly vandalised. Farhad Afshar, the president of the Coordination of Islamic Organisations, had no doubt what signal was sent by this vote: “that Muslims do not feel accepted as a religious community”. But it gets even darker than that. In June, the Zurich-based SVP politician Alexander Müller was forced to stand down after tweeting: “Maybe we need another Kristallnacht… this time for mosques.” The parallels with anti-Semitism could not be more overt.
In France – where recently 42 per cent polled for Le Monde believed that the presence of Muslims was a “threat” to their national identity – a record number voted for the anti-Muslim National Front in April’s presidential elections. Denmark’s third largest party is the People’s Party, which rails against “Islamisation” and demands the end of all non-Western immigration. The anti-Muslim Vlaams Belang flourishes in Flemish Belgium. But those who take a stand against Islamophobia are often demanded to qualify it with a condemnation of extremism. When is this ever asked of other stands against prejudice? When we condemn anti-Semitic hate, must we criticise repressive Israeli policies in the same breath? It would be absurd – they are completely separate issues, and indeed millions of Jews across the world oppose the actions of Israel’s government.
Anti-Muslim hate is a European pandemic. I’m proud to stand with M Hasan and other Muslims facing Islamophobia. But – I implore, I beg fellow non-Muslims – stand with them too, before this hatred spirals further out of control.