UK study highlights anti-Muslim hate crimes
LONDON // An alarming picture of the physical violence, intimidation and discrimination faced by many of Britain's two million Muslims on a daily basis, was portrayed yesterday in new academic research.
The 224-page report from the European Muslim Research Centre, based at the University of Exeter, said that the bulk of incidents went unreported by communities who had lost faith in the authorities to do anything about them.
Released at a conference yesterday at the London Muslim Centre, the report called for "urgent" government action to tackle the problem after years of neglect.
Part of a 10-year study into Islamophobia throughout Europe, the report represented "an insight into the grim reality of a lived experience that is insufficiently acknowledged and understood outside of the communities where it occurs".
Authors of the report, Jonathan Githens-Mazer and Robert Lambert, the co-directors of the research centre, said in their introduction: "We argue in this report that much anti-Muslim violence in the UK is predicated on the rhetoric and practice of the 'war on terror' that George Bush and Tony Blair launched against 'an evil ideology' in the aftermath of 9/11."
Mr Lambert added: "Because the war on terror is viewed as a security risk, Muslims do not have the support that is now widely accepted in other areas of hate crime. Muslims are not requesting special treatment, just equal rights with their fellow citizens."
The report, "Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: UK Case Studies", was based on teams of researchers interviewing members of the Muslim community throughout the UK.
Although the researchers found well-documented acts of violence perpetrated by followers of right-wing groups such as the British National Party and English Defence League, they said that the majority of attacks were carried out by "individuals who have become convinced and angry by negative portrayals of Muslims in the media".
Random acts of violence and intimidation - including what the report said was a "disturbing" number of incidents involving Muslim women wearing veils - were most likely to occur in poor, urban communities.
In one incident, a woman wearing a burqa was punched and called a "terrorist" by a stranger in front of her petrified daughter. The woman was too scared to inform the police.
The report said that, in this instance, the woman stopped going out as much to reduce the risk of further attacks. Other British Muslims reduced such risks by abandoning traditional clothing or becoming isolated within their own communities.
Many Muslims, the report found, do not report incidents because of a complex set of reasons including fear, alienation and suspicion of the authorities.
Mr Githens-Mazer said: "Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crime are very real problems for British Muslims going about their everyday business.
"Through our research, we have found that in smaller and more isolated mosques in many suburbs and market towns, there is a feeling of being under siege.
"Some local councils who are made aware of the situation say to mosque officials: 'We can see this is bad - why don't you move the mosque?'"
The report said that, especially in smaller Muslim communities where attacks on mosques had "increased dramatically" since the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, support from local police was often inadequate.
Responding to the report, the communities secretary, Eric Pickles, described Islamophobia and hate crimes as "deplorable" and called on victims to ensure that they reported all incidents to the police.
"We want to stop anyone who creates distrust and division in communities, wherever it is. Everyone has the right to go about their daily business without fear of harm or intimidation," he said. "We want Britain to become an integrated society, where everyone participates and people are not held back by discrimination and intolerance."
John Esposito, a professor of international affairs and Islamic studies at Georgetown University in Washington, who attended yesterday's conference, said the problem was that "a biased minority in the United Kingdom" refused to acknowledge the legitimate place of Islam in British society.
"Islam is now a European and American religion," he said. "Muslims are part of the mosaic of western nations; like people of all faiths and no faith, they are entitled to the same rights, duties, opportunities and civil liberties."
The report does hold out hope for the future. It concludes: "We have every reason to believe that the decency of the overwhelming majority of ordinary UK citizens will eventually undermine and reduce the bigotry of a vocal minority.
"If brave political leadership is forthcoming, then the task will be so much easier."