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Latest hate crime data released: what does it say about Islamophobia?

Latest hate crime data released: what does it say about Islamophobia?

Categories: Latest News

Sunday October 17 2021

On Tuesday, the Home Office released its hate crime data for England and Wales for 2020-2021, with the latest figures indicating some striking patterns in need of examination.

Hate crime is perhaps the most overt, visible and undeniable symptom of the Islamophobia prevalent across certain segments of society. The impacts of these crimes are long-lasting, with many victims left feeling anxious and fearful for their safety. Consequently, it is important to explore what the latest figures mean for Muslims.

Firstly, hate crime in general is rising, with 124,091 reports in 2020-2021, amounting to a 9% increase compared to 2019-2020. Amongst all forms of hate crime, racially motivated hate crime saw the most dramatic increase, with a 12% rise since the year before.

Islamophobia is frequently misunderstood as exclusively an issue of hostility towards religion. However, this is a misrepresentation of how Islamophobia functions and manifests itself. In reality, Muslims have become racialised to such an extent that it is frequently very difficult to distinguish whether a particular instance of Islamophobic abuse is racially or religiously motivated. Consequently, it is inevitable that a significant proportion of Islamophobic hate crime will be incorporated within the data on racially motivated hate crime; for which this is currently no disaggregation of the religious identity of victims. As such, police forces are supposed to record Islamophobia as a specific category of hate crime. However, FOIs throughout the years have shown that this is not being done consistently across forces and, therefore, data remains limited and often unreliable.

At the same time, data for religiously motivated hate crime is useful, but cannot be taken on its own as a reliable indicator of the levels of Islamophobia in the UK. The recently released data indicates that there were 2,703 religiously motivated hate crime offences committed against Muslims where the religion of the victim was recorded. This amounts to 45% of all religiously motivated hate crime, making Muslims more likely to experience religiously motivated hate crime than any other group. This pattern is confirmed by wider studies, including a recent report from Citizens UK, which focussed on the impact of hate crime in Nottingham, and found that 3 in 5 of the city’s Muslim population have been victims of hate crime – more than any other religious group in the city.

It is interesting to note that religiously motivated hate crime recorded in 2020-2021 fell by 18% compared to the year before. Meanwhile, the percentage of incidents involving Muslim victims also fell from 50% in 2020 to 45% in 2021. However, this does not mean that hate crime and hostility against Muslims is decreasing. As previously mentioned, there would need to be an analysis of the incidents of Islamophobia recorded as racial hatred to draw any reliable conclusions.

In the meantime, it is worth bearing in mind the wider context of the time period in which these offenses were recorded. Indeed, the time period recorded, March 2020-2021, was characterised by lockdowns on account of COVID-19, meaning that the opportunities for the random street-based abuse so often directed at Muslims was significantly reduced. In its place, MEND noted a shift in the types of abuse that Muslim communities experienced during the pandemic. For instance, as hate crime reports dropped, MEND’s Islamophobia Response Unit (IRU) received an increase in reports of neighbour harassment.

Similarly, hatred online was acutely felt by many Muslims across the country, which was increasingly driven by conspiracy theories surrounding the alleged responsibility of Muslims for the continuing pandemic – conspiracies that were fuelled by the far-right, the media, and political representatives, such as Conservative MP for Calder Valley, Craig Whittaker’s assertion that Muslim communities were not taking the pandemic seriously enough.

This was characterised by a variety of fake stories and images were depicting Muslims as flouting social distancing measures. Katie Hopkins inferred that the UK police should follow the example of India in deploying violence against Muslims during lockdown. In a video she shared on Twitter Muslim worshippers in India can be seen being beaten by police. This was accompanied by a comment suggesting that Humberside Police force should perhaps aspire to the same measures. Meanwhile, Tommy Robinson shared a video on his Telegram channel allegedly showing British Muslims attending prayers at a “secret mosque” in Birmingham. The West Midlands police subsequently dismissed these claims, however, the video had been watched more than 14,000 times and continued to be shared as evidence of Muslim communities allegedly undermining the British state. Such misinformation led to police being inundated with false complaints by members of the public, with some postingmessages online calling for the demolition of all mosques to “cure” COVID-19.

Therefore, a fall in the number of recorded hate crime offences against Muslims during this time should not be confused as evidence that Islamophobia is in decline – it is merely a change in manifestations due to social changes throughout the pandemic.

A final important issue to note regarding the latest Home Office data is the impact of socio-political events on hate crime patterns. Major socio-political events, such as terror attacks and the EU referendum, often mobilise acts of hostility towards Muslims. This is a pattern once again observed within the latest hate crime data, with recorded spikes in racially and religiously aggravated offences directly associated to the Black Lives Matter protests in May 2020.

Another critical problem facing Muslim communities in tackling the widespread prevalence of Islamophobic hate crime is the significant level of underreporting, which results in an incomplete and inaccurate picture of the rate of hate crime targeting Muslim communities. As with all types of hate crime and other forms of violent crime, a significant number of cases are not reported due to factors such as victims facing intimidation from the suspect; anxiety from the incident; a lack of confidence in the police; and a lack of knowledge regarding how to report an incident. As such, the Home Office estimates that there were around 39,000 religiously aggravated hate crimes during 2018/19, nearly five times the recorded offences.

It is, therefore, imperative that, in addition to greater police training and enhanced recording procedures in relation to Islamophobia, initiatives must be promoted to encourage greater levels of reporting in order to glean an accurate understanding of the scale of these incidents.

At the same time, with the devastating killing of David Amess on Friday and emerging information regarding the identity of the killer, this is the type of event that leaves Muslims and minority communities vulnerable to attacks and abuse. Consequently, there needs to be a heightened awareness, particularly amongst media and political voices, not to exacerbate tensions and to approach the surrounding discussions with sensitivity and maturity in the knowledge of the potential consequences to innocent communities.

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