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Third of Muslim students fear attack

4th May 2018
Third of Muslim students fear attack

Hamed Chapman

Women who wear traditional Islamic garments, such as a hijab, niqab or jilbab, were significantly more likely to worry about abuse.

One in three Muslim students are living in fear of Islamophobic attacks or abuse on campus, according to new research.

The survey by the National Union of Students (NUS) found that Muslim women, who wear traditional garments such as a hijab, niqab or jilbab, were significantly more likely to worry about being abused and being the most concerned for their safety.

Their report builds on the work of the Black Students’ Campaign and the NUS Women’s Campaign over the last few years and underlined more than half of Muslim students have been subjected to harassment or abuse online. A third of whom said they had been victims of crime or abuse at further education college or university.

Most students (79 percent) who suffered abuse felt they had been targeted because of being Muslim.

The findings reinforce existing concerns about the effect of the Prevent duty on Muslim students and reaffirm calls to abolish Prevent as a whole.

Apart from a third being in fear of attack, a similar number reported having felt negatively affected by Prevent and as many as 43 percent of those affected felt unable to express their views or disengaged from political debate altogether.

The correlation between those targeted by Prevent and those who are “visibly” Muslim (e.g. Muslim women wearing the hijab, niqab, and jilbab) was deeply alarming and lent weight to the argument that Prevent magnifies a variety of existing biases and prejudices that may exist about Muslims, the report said.

One of the most significant findings of the survey centred around experiences of harassment and hate crime on campus. One in three respondents reported having experienced some type of abuse or crime at their place of study and over a half experienced some form of online abuse.

The survey questioned what work if any was being undertaken by institutions to safeguard Muslim students against racism in or around campus. Hate words or symbols and the incident coinciding with a terrorist incident were alarmingly cited by Muslims as indications that the perpetrator’s actions were motivated by religious prejudice.

The latest findings follow a rise of hate crimes facing the Muslim community across the country. Hate crimes targeting mosques across the UK more than doubled between 2016 and 2017, figures revealed last year.

The study, believed to be the first of its kind in the UK, reveals that 43 percent of Muslim students do not feel comfortable discussing terrorism in class, and a third do not believe that there is a safe space or forum on campus to discuss the issues that affect them.

Muslim students reported feeling less comfortable in engaging in political debate, or for running for roles in their students’ union – while some experienced barriers to organising events.

The new report suggested that many Muslim students feel disillusioned and disengaged from the students’ union with two-thirds of respondents saying they thought the NUS would not respond appropriately to allegations of Islamophobia. Eight out of 10 had never attended any NUS events of any kind.

Hareem Ghani, NUS Women’s Officer, said she was deeply concerned about Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment within the education sector and society as a whole. “Action must be taken immediately by institutions and students’ unions to safeguard Muslim students – especially women – against racism in or around campus,” she warned.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, told The Muslim News, “The details revealed in the NUS report about the experiences of Muslim students are shocking. No student should ever feel like they are not safe because of their ethnicity, gender or religion.

“Our universities are places of learning and debate, and should also act as a safe space for all students from fear of persecution, harm and bigotry.

“A Labour government would work closely with the National Union of Students to address the legitimate concerns from students of diverse backgrounds so that they are made to feel more accepted and welcome while tackling issues of discrimination head-on.

“Labour in government is also committed to a full review of the Prevent anti-extremism strategy.”

A Department for Education Spokesperson told The Muslim News, “There is no place in society higher education for hatred or any form of discrimination or prejudice. Universities have clear responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 and we expect them, providers to act swiftly to address hate crime, reported to them, including anti-Muslim incidents.”

“The Prevent duty builds on universities’ safeguarding responsibilities and aims to stop people being drawn into terrorism. Prevent It deals with all forms of extremism; it is not about shutting down free speech or spying on students and should not be used to discriminate against any particular group,” the Spokesperson added.

The Muslim Council of Britain said universities should be upholders of freedom of expression and protect students from hate crimes. “Universities and colleges should be the foremost institutions in society upholding our hard-won freedoms of speech and equality. It is unfortunate that the experience of Muslim students falls far behind this ideal due to the widespread increase of Islamophobia. Not only are Muslims, both visible and non-visible, facing a rise in hate crime and physical attacks, but it’s important to note how institutional Islamophobia plays a part in the systematic exclusion of Muslims from society. We hope that this issue is taken seriously, and a commitment made not to allow discrimination to take place within our educational institutions,” a spokesperson told The Muslim News.

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