Increase in Islamophobic hate crimes show why we need effective new laws
Categories: Latest News
Friday February 22 2019
Hate crime is unique. It inflicts a fear on its victims which makes them question the extent to which they belong, or are wanted, in wider society. Such a crime threatens to undo a lot of the progress made in the last few decades to make British society a more cohesive, tolerant and inclusive one.
The number of hate crimes recorded by the police in England & Wales rose by 17% from 2016/17 to 2017/18. There was also a 40% increase in religious hate crime from 2016/17 to 2017/18. In a ComRes survey commissioned by MEND in 2018, over 58% of the British public felt that Islamophobia was a real problem in society. Islamophobic hate speech, in particular, is becoming more prominent recently. In March 2018 leaflets calling for a “punish a Muslim day” were circulated across the UK and caused widespread distress amongst Muslims. Similarly, in February 2019, signs were put up on the windows of people’s homes saying “beware of Muslim rape gangs”.
These incidents are part of a trend of more hate crimes being committed against Muslims. Home Office statistics show that Muslims were 15 times more likely to be a victim of a hate crime than a Christian in 2018 – a 25% increase from 2015. The Home Office statistics also show that in 2018, Muslim adults were the most likely to be a victim of religiously motivated hate crime – over half (52%) of religious hate crime offences were targeted against Muslims, even though they only make up less than 5% of the population.
The law does little to dissuade Islamophobes from publishing or disseminating hate-filled material of the type that has caused so much alarm and fear amongst Muslim communities. Currently, the main legislative protections against hate speech are found in Part 3A of the Public Order Act 1986, incorporating the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006. Section 29C is particularly relevant, and states “a person who publishes or distributes written material which is threatening is guilty of an offence if he intends thereby to stir up religious hated.”
However, this legal provision seems to have not dissuaded those with Islamophobic sentiments from expressing them. It notably does not criminalise “abusive or insulting” words or behaviour, and requires it to be proven that the defendant intended to “stir up religious hatred.” This is unlike racist hate crimes where, under the Public Order Act 1986, no proof of intent is required for the act to be criminal. The high threshold required to charge someone for Islamophobic hate speech often leads to people being acquitted of what ordinary people would see as an Islamophobic crime because there is no proof of intent, such as Eric Kitson.
It is also worth pointing out that the person responsible for the “punish a Muslim day” leaflets was not charged under the above provision, but instead pleaded guilty to a variety of other crimes not related to hate speech. This shows the clear ineffectiveness of current hate crime legislation in tackling a growing problem, as even the authorities don’t use it to crack down on perpetrators of hate. Indeed, between 2011 and 2015, only 6 people were prosecuted under the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006. The CPS needs to formulate guidelines to more stringently prosecute perpetrators, and the law needs to be amended to include responses to hate crimes.
The Government also needs to consult with a wider range of Muslim stakeholders. The 2016 hate crime strategy accepts the need to work in “partnership with communities…to ensure that best practice in tackling hate crime is understood and drawn upon in all our work” – yet many representatives of the Muslim community are not consulted by the Government. This means the Government is depriving itself of crucial information from Muslim victims of hate crime, making any response inherently ineffective and flawed until this is changed.
Furthermore, the Government’s 2018 update to the hate crime strategy shows that hate crimes against Muslims are rising, particularly after terrorist incidents, and the problem of hate crimes being underreported persists. This highlights how the strategy is failing to not only tackle hate crimes, but also win the support and trust of communities affected by it. Furthermore, it is greatly ironic that Sajid Javid is leading the strategy to fight hate crime at the same time as he is resisting calls for an inquiry into Islamophobia in his own party. It would send a strong message of his commitment to stamping out hate crimes against Muslims if he started by firstly acknowledging and rooting it out at home.
The examples of the type of hate crimes committed against Muslims, and the inadequacy of the current hate crime strategy, illustrate the need for a Muslim-led government strategy to combat this worrying trend and prevent it from becoming normalised and accepted. Only by conducting a consultation which involves representatives and spokespeople of victims of Islamophobic hate crimes can an effective legislative response be introduced.
Having legislation which is rarely used and has an unrealistically high threshold for the prosecution of hate perpetrators serves little more than a symbolic purpose, and is not a solution. The growing number of Muslim victims of hate crimes demonstrates the need for equal standards – this would start with removing the requirement to prove intent, and extend to criminalising some forms of abuse.