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‘Nothing Will Change for Muslims Unless there is a Reckoning with Britain’s Normalised Islamophobia’

As Rishi Sunak talks of ‘mob rule’, political and media discussion of the violence in Gaza appears to be triggering an increase in hostilities towards Muslims here in the UK

Muslim men pray during a march demanding a ceasefire in Gaza in London on 3 February 2024. Photo: Richard Baker/Alamy

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Violence in the Middle East is often coupled with the increased use of the language of terror that is routinely associated with Muslims.

Palestinians are ‘extremist’ and ‘terrorists’. British Muslims are ‘extremist’, ‘terrorist’ and ‘misogynist’ who are now apparently “in charge of Britain”.  The language of one reaffirms the other and consequently harm towards Muslims – whether Palestinian or British – is legitimised.

The increase in hostilities towards British Muslims as a plausible genocide is being enacted in Gaza is not coincidental; and it does not just arise from simple ignorance. It is embedded top-down by the very instruments that govern this country.

British Muslim communities live in an environment in which Islamophobia is omnipresent – both directly and structurally.

Despite only comprising 6.5% of the total population, Home Office data on hate crime shows that Muslims were the target of 44% of all religious hate crimes in 2022-2023. Islamophobia is also pervasive structurally, in the Labour market, in health and across society. This is the constant, the normal for British Muslims.

Throw in an eruption of violence in the Middle East, and the inflammatory language that accompanies it, and the risks to British Muslims are magnified.

It is therefore no surprise that in this context, the Islamophobia Response Unit (IRU) released shocking data recently revealing the sharp spike in Islamophobic incidents.

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When directly compared to the preceding five-month average, incidents in October 2023 rose by 365%; by 325% in November; by 206% in December; and by 206% again in January 2024.

The first half of February is already showing a 301% increase in comparison to the previous five-month average.

These are shocking figures despite Muslim communities tending to be reluctant to report such incidents. Depressingly, the true figures may be much worse.

The incidents vary from silencing and censorship to verbal and physical harm.

Take Uzma, a successful executive with an impressive CV citing EY, PwC and Microsoft as past employers. She was banned from LinkedIn for what she believes to be her pro-Palestinian activism. She had a following of 80,000 supporters and more than five million impressions for her content. Uzma took the opportunity to use her platform to talk about the events in Israel and Gaza. Exercising her freedom of speech has cost her access to her livelihood and with little to no support from the platform.

Then there is the year 13 student who was pulled from his classes and interviewed by two teachers because he wore a Palestine badge. Was he Muslim? Did he go to mosque? Did he have a British passport? These were questions he was subjected to by adults that he should have been able to trust. All of them centralised his identity as a Muslim. And all served to spotlight his identity as a problem. This is not the isolated actions of two teachers, it is the result of legislation made by this state which embeds and legitimises the marginalisation of Muslims – even if they are children.

There is also the direct Islamophobia experienced by Muslims on a daily basis; individuals being harassed as they walk down the street or use public transport. One such case documented by the IRU involved a visibly Muslim person being spat at on a train then being goaded for not responding, which resulted in them being subjected to further racial slurs. Muslims engaged in the most mundane activities are deemed offensive by their very existence.


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These are just three examples of many incidents that impact Muslims in all walks of life and in all settings. This cannot be a surprise given the normalisation, indeed the rewarding of Islamophobia within our political discourse.

Contrary to the easily identifiable Islamophobia of the right, Islamophobia transcends the political spectrum. You can be elevated to the House of Lords after running an Islamophobic campaign in the case of Lord Zac Goldsmith. You can hold positions in the highest office of the land in the case of Boris Johson. You can use it as a ‘get out of jail free card’ if you are the Speaker of the House who has thwarted the conventions of Parliament.

The returns on Islamophobia are undoubtedly attractive unless you happen to be a Muslim.

In that case, even holding positions of power does not immunise you from its presence as the experiences of Humza Yousaf, Zara Sultana, Apsana Begum or Sadiq Khan show.

When Islamophobia permeates societal structures and is propagated proudly in our political discourse, we cannot expect the harms that it inflicts on British Muslims to cease. The symptoms may present on our streets, but the disease has taken hold of those at the top.

Without a reckoning with the normalised Islamophobia in our political discourse, organisations like the Islamophobia Response Unit will never be out of work and British Muslims will never truly be safe.

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