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Not enough being done to combat rising tide of Islamophobia

29th Mar 2018


Month after month, the pages of this paper are filled with harrowing reports on the rising tide of Islamophobia sweeping this country. The number of Anti-Muslim hate crimes has surged by 40%, with 1,678 incidents reported in London alone in the year up to January 2018. Despite the spike in attacks, there has been a drop of 1,000 in the number of prosecutions of hate crime in the past two years.

Challenged in Parliament about the fall, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Vulnerability, Safeguarding and Countering Extremism, Victoria Atkins, attributed the drop in CPS referrals that were recorded last year, as having an “impact” on the number of completed prosecutions in 2016 and 2017. “The Crown Prosecution Service is working with the police at a local and national level to understand the reasons for the overall fall in referrals,” she said unable to provide an answer. Instead, she seemingly victim-blamed, saying “the message to spread around our constituencies to people who have been a victim of hate crime is please report it because that way we can try to do something about it.”

The unsatisfactory reply came in an emergency debate on hate crimes called by Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi who (along with at least four other Muslim MPs) received hate letters calling for Muslims to be attacked and punished on April 3, offering perpetrators rewards, ranging from 10 points for verbal abuse, 50 points for throwing acid and 1,000 points for bombing a mosque to 2,500 points for nuking Makkah. “Why has no Minister in the past eight years made a speech on the rise of anti-Muslim hatred?” she asked.

The Government has so far committed a paltry £3.4 million over three years to help to protect Muslim places of worship. This includes an extra £1 million following the terror attack at Finsbury Park. The sum constitutes only quarter of what the Jewish community receives for security at synagogues and schools despite the Muslim population in the country being around ten times larger. So far only 45 mosques out of an estimated 1,750 in the UK have received funding and the scheme is currently closed.

Asked by Thangam Debbonaire MP if extra funding could be provided for security if it should be needed in her constituency of West Bristol, not just for mosques but to reassure Muslim children at school and community centres, Atkins said that if the Labour MP had any particular concerns she should “ensure that her chief constable and her police and crime commissioner know, because they are the ones who must make the operational decisions.”

When challenged by Labour MP for Cardiff Central, Jo Stevens, if there were “any plans to increase the amount of funding and the number of places of worship that will attract funding this year,” the Minister suggested that she would prefer to write to her about it. “I confess that I am unclear as to whether applications are in tune and would not wish in any way to inadvertently answer incorrectly.”

The issue is not just about the urgent shortage of funding for security, but whether the Government and police are doing enough to combat the growing terrorist threat made against Muslims.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan gave a further insight into the extent of the problem, revealing that he had death threats made against him.  Among other things he had been labelled a “gay Muslim terrorist” and had received tweets threatening to kill him. Just two months ago, @SpeedwagonPRST tweeted: “I’d pay for someone to execute Sadiq Khan.”

Former Tory Minister, Anna Soubry, said, “The time has now come for a proper legal definition of Islamophobia.” People were “sick and tired of hate crime and Islamophobia. This is absolutely no longer to be tolerated.” She said it was not really about hate crime but was “actually an act of blatant incitement to terrorism.”

But her call was rejected by the Atkins, who said that most people adhered to the one used by the Runnymede Trust. “We do not accept the need for a definitive definition,” she said.

The UK’s College of Police does have a working definition of anti-Semitism derived from the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia to help professionals understand its nature. It is taken to be a combination of race hate crimes where the hostility is targeted towards Jewish people or communities and religious hate crime targeted towards Judaism. The same cannot be said about Muslims, who are not accepted in UK courts as an ethnic group.

A further point in the debate on hate crime was raised by SNP Justice and Home Affairs Spokesperson, Joanna Cherry, who said that in Scotland, a senior judge had been appointed to lead an independent review into hate crime legislation and would be reporting to the Scottish Government later this year. Atkins could not give any reassurance that similar steps are being taken in the rest of the UK, but she did reveal that the Government’s hate crime action plan, which was published in 2016, will be “refreshed this year” despite refusing to provide an update on which (if any) parts of the plan have been actioned in the past two years.

The plan’s range of actions include: funding for security for places of worship; the disaggregation of religion-based hate crime data; working with IPSO to provide guidance for media on Islam and Muslims; taking further action in relation to education so that teachers can have sometimes difficult conversations with their students about beliefs and words; and funding programmes through the Anne Frank Trust and Streetwise. “We are determined to ensure that our action in relation to hate crime is up to date and current,” the Minister said.

Unlike the attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury, no one was immediately reported to have been injured in the latest vile threats against Muslims, but the contrast in the reaction of the Government could not be starker. It may not have been some kind of nerve agent in the hate letters but there was a noxious substance in these sent to Muslim MPs that caused some of their staff to be hospitalised as a precaution. And the date of the threatening action is yet upon us.

To solely send a junior Home Office Minister to the first Parliamentary debate on Islamophobia in over eight years in itself did not give a very good impression of how serious the issue is in the Government’s list of priorities. It was rather the reverse. There was no utter condemnation that the new departure campaign in hate crimes against Muslims as a repugnant and illegal incitement to violence that has no place in British society and the perpetrators should be hunted down. Politicians, the police and all communities must unite at a time when little is being done to stop the cancer of hate disseminating all over the social media as well in a section of the press.

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