David Amess Murder Generates Fears of Rise in Islamophobic Hate Crime
Categories: Latest News
Monday November 01 2021
Sir David Amess MP was brutally murdered on Friday 15th October 2021 by a 25-year-old British man who happens to come from a Somali Muslim background. This has generated expectations of a spike in racially and religiously motivated hate crimes targeting British Muslims in retaliation to the killing. To avoid such concerns, more must be done to combat Islamophobic hate crimes targeting innocent Muslims in the wake of such incidents; the first step is to adopt a formal definition of Islamophobia.
The murder of Sir David Amess MP has raised concerns over an expected increase in hate crimes against Muslims, much of which stems from the portrayal of this attack as linked to Muslims, amongst media and political voices. There have already been reports of threats towards members of the Somali community and British Somali organisations.
In a statement released just hours after the murder, the Metropolitan Police declared: “the early investigation has revealed a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism” and said the murder is being treated as a terrorist incident. Despite its admission that the attacker’s motives have yet to be identified, the media’s reporting of the killing highlights its propensity to emphasise the Muslim identity of the killer.
A 2013 study involving a discourse analysis of over 200,000 newspaper articles from 11 newspapers mentioning “Islam” or “Muslims” found that “Islam” and “terror” were simultaneously used in more than one-third (37.9%) of the texts analysed. Consequently, this leaves Muslim communities vulnerable to Islamophobic abuse and attack, and demonstrates that reporting and analysis of crimes in which the perpetrator happens to be Muslim must not be undertaken in a way that perpetuates tensions.
Focusing on the killer’s ties to “Islamist extremism” cultivates an “Us versus Them” narrative that implies a wider threat posed by Muslims to British society. Instead, the media and politicians, especially members of the Government, have a responsibility to emphasise solidarity rather than divisions during times of crisis to ensure the safety of Muslims and minority communities.
Previous incidents have demonstrated that the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes in the UK typically rise following a terror attack perpetrated by someone that happens to be Muslim. For example, in the month after the Manchester Arena bombings on 22nd May 2017, Islamophobic hate crimes in Greater Manchester surged 500% as Greater Manchester Police recorded 224 instances of Islamophobia compared with 37 in the same period in 2016.
Such patterns highlight the backlash that can emerge after a terrorist incident, which is felt by Muslim communities at large due to a crime committed by a single individual. A disturbing case of this is the terror attack near Finsbury Park Mosque in June 2017, which targeted innocent Muslim worshippers during the holy month of Ramadan and occurred just weeks after the Manchester Arena bombing and the London Bridge terror attack. To prevent imminent backlash by the far-right following violent acts perpetrated by criminals that happen to be Muslim, a clear and robust definition of Islamophobia must be adopted.
To curtail retaliatory hate crimes against Muslims and Islamophobic hate crimes, in general, a definition of Islamophobia is essential. The APPG on British Muslims defines Islamophobia as “a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.” The racialisation of Muslims based on certain cultural and ethnic markers is evidenced by the targeting of members of the British Somali community – on the basis that Sir David Amess’ killer is of Somali descent.
Without a definition of Islamophobia, the Government cannot meaningfully combat anti-Muslim hate crime, making it more difficult to identify and subsequently act against. This is especially important in instances of verbal abuse – such as when a Muslim man is called a “terrorist”, or a Muslim woman is told she should not be wearing a niqab in public – as it is challenging to prove incitement to religious hatred in such cases.
Understandings of Islamophobia remain highly subjective, lacking the clear and established principles that a non-partisan, cross-party definition would bring. Consequently, adopting a definition of Islamophobia is critical in helping to tackle Islamophobic hate crime, not merely following incidents of terrorism, but at all times.
The tragic murder of Sir David Amess MP is a stark reminder of the repercussions that violent attacks can have for innocent minority communities. What is particularly striking is that Sir David Amess was incredibly supportive of the local Muslim communities in Essex throughout his time as MP for Southend West. Yet, Muslims are now being targeted in retaliation to his killing. Therefore, MEND urges the Government to adopt the APPG definition of Islamophobia, together with the explanatory guidelines produced by MEND, so that Islamophobia can be tackled effectively.