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Islamophobia is Real – and Russia is Promoting It

Faisal Khan examines the rise of hate crimes against British Muslims and what is causing it.

Faisal Khan examines the rise of hate crimes against British Muslims and what is causing it.

There can be little doubt that Islamophobia has increased in recent years in the UK.

The Anti-Muslim hate monitoring group TellMAMA recorded a record rise in anti-Muslim hate and attacks in its annual report in 2017. Most of the victims were Muslim women, and the typical perpetrators were young white men.

“Home Office data on hate crime suggests 34-45% increase every year for the last five years for religiously-aggravated hate crime… 52% of these religiously-aggravated hate crimes are against Muslims.”

TellMAMA noted a surge in Islamophobic attacks, with 1,201 verified reports submitted in 2017 – a 26% increase on the year before and the highest number since it began recording incidents. The rise was apparently down to the growth of the Far Right, as well as a large number of “trigger” incidents such as the terrorist attacks in London and Manchester, which prompted a backlash of Islamophobic attacks.

The Muslim organisation MEND told Byline Times that “whatever metric we use, whether it be measurement of Islamophobic hate crime on the street, the number of people reporting Islamophobic discrimination within their jobs/education/accessing services, or even measurement of negativity of discourse around Muslim communities, data suggests that Islamophobia has been steadily increasing over recent years”.

“Culturally, it is expedient for some British elites to focus on Islam and Muslims as the ultimate bogey man categories.”

Home Office data on hate crime suggests a 34-45% increase every year for the last five years for religiously-aggravated hate crime, with an estimated four in five incidents going unreported. The Home Office notes that around 52% of these religiously-aggravated hate crimes are against Muslims. In other words, Islamophobic hate crime is more prevalent than all other religious hate crime combined.

Sunder Katwala, director of the British Future think-tank, said there is clear evidence that anti-Muslim prejudice is more widespread than prejudice against other ethnic or faith minorities in the UK and has more mainstream reach.

“While there is active and organised anti-Muslim prejudice stoked by groups like Britain First and others, there is a broader and more mainstream form of casual prejudice,” he said.

The ‘national conversation’ on immigration led by British Future and Hope Not Hate, which held citizens panels in 60 towns and cities around the UK, found that casual anti-Muslim prejudice could often be expressed by those who would think of themselves as respecting decent boundaries on racism and prejudice – but who struggled to extend these to those they had least contact with.

In places of high-ethnic diversity (such as London and Bradford) attitudes were often different.

According to MEND: “The counter-terrorism apparatus has significantly contributed to the marginalisation, stigmatisation and criminalisation of Muslims and expression of Islam. This has been primarily because of the PREVENT duty, which has placed a statutory duty on public servants to report people vulnerable of extremism.”

Many individuals are expected to become fully-specialised counter-terrorist specialists with just one or two hours training.

“The result is that individuals with limited knowledge and understanding of Islam must rely on their own experience, which is largely informed by stereotypes prevalent in the media. Obviously, the result is that referrals are being made on the basis of individual prejudices and biases,” MEND said.

For LSE academic Tahir Abbas, Islamophobia is a complex and multi-faceted problem deeply rooted in societal causes. He told the Byline Times  that it represents both “cultural and structural racism” and reflects “patterns of discrimination, exclusion and demonisation based on perceptions of an individual or group’s ‘Muslimness’”.

“The principal aims of Islamophobia are to distort the global reality of Western economic exploitation that remains ongoing and systematic, affecting much of the Global South, which concentrates much of the global Muslim population of the world,” he said.

“Culturally, it is expedient for some British elites to focus on Islam and Muslims as the ultimate bogey man categories as a way in which to deviate attention from far more fundamentally significant issues of poverty, inequality and uneven economic development that affects the entire country.”

Journalist CJ Werleman, who writes extensively on issues affecting Muslims, believes Russia is actively involved in promoting Islamophobia in Western democracies to undermine social cohesion.

Indeed, TellMAMA’s 2018 annual report found that Russian bots based in St Petersburg were actively promoting Islamophobia on social media.

To accompany Faisal Khan’s analysis, here are some key statistics from official sources on the rise of Islamophobic hate crimes in the UK since Brexit.

EDITORIAL UPDATE: Twitter has confirmed that the Russian Internet Research Agency has been a source of Islamophobic Memes during 2018.

Of the 418 Russian accounts Twitter removed, the hashtags they used most were:

#ReleaseTheMemo — 38,000 times

#MAGA — 38,000 times

#IslamisTheProblem — 18,000 times

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