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Research shows racial profiling undermining race relations in Scotland

Research shows racial profiling undermining race relations in Scotland

Categories: Latest News

Wednesday August 19 2015

The Herald Scotland reports on a new study by Durham University that found the integration of Muslims in Scottish society is being undermined by the disproportionate targeting of Asian and Muslim travellers at airports and in other security spaces.

The report warns that the perception that racial profiling is being used by police and security workers is widely held within Muslim communities with groups regularly sharing “airport stories” of nightmare experiences whilst travelling.

The research study found that Asian immigrants and Scottish-born Asians both felt Scotland was broadly a welcoming place however, many of those interviewed by Dr Stefano Bonino of Durham University felt like they were a “suspect community” with an expectation that they would be disproportionately subject to stop and search and questioning while travelling.

Bonino, of Durham University’s school of applied social science, argues that Asian people’s sense of equality and feelings of belonging to society are being severely undermined by a security focus on their ethnicity or religion. He said: “Contact with police and security officers at airports constitutes the main area of concern for Scottish Muslims.”

Bonino’s study states: “This presents a serious challenge. Negative interactions between authorities and ethnic minorities risk undermining a Scottish project of local pluralism and diversity. Most of Edinburgh’s Muslims had either themselves experienced, or had relatives and/or friends who were subjected to perceived disproportionate targeting or harsh treatment, when leaving from or arriving at Scottish airports. For the most part, respondents argued that this was the result of the ethnic and religious profiling that the police and security officers allegedly use to target people of seemingly Muslim appearance.”

Mr Bonino said some Muslims felt their identities were undermined on three levels; their religion was misrepresented, their Scottish or British identity unrecognised and their status within Scottish or Muslim society often ignored.

He said the findings suggest that airports had become a physical embodiment of the stigma faced by Muslims and the use of powers under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act resulted in Asians feeling as though the perception of them as inherently suspicious had become normalised.

The findings come in light of a report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) in 2013, criticising the government’s Schedule 7 powers to stop and search individuals at UK ports and airports as “too powerful” and “intrusive”. The report was reinforced by findings from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) which found that Asians or individuals of ‘other’ ethnic group were 11.3 times more likely than white people to be stopped and questioned at airports, with Blacks 6.3 times more likely and mixed race people 3.6 times more likely to be stopped and questioned.

The problematic nature of the powers given to police and security personal at airports was also highlighted in our Schedule 7 consultation submission which identified the disproportionate use of the powers against Muslims as corroborated by qualitative data and the available statistics on Schedule 7 examinations.

The racial profiling of Muslims at airports in Scotland resulted in a meeting in Glasgow in 2011 to discuss the growing concern among Scottish Muslims surrounding the abuse of Schedule 7 powers by police, ports and immigration officials to harass and intimidate Muslims travellers after some Muslims boycotted Glasgow airport over their concerns. Some had even accused Special Branch of using stop and search powers to try and recruit Scottish Muslims into spying for them. A claim that has been voiced by Muslims travelling through other UK airports too.

The growing harassment of Muslims in Scotland has been underpinned by the number of hate crimes committed against members of their community in comparison to other faith groups. A report last year found that while 33 anti-Semitic hate incidents occurred in Scotland in 2014/15, nearly four times as many hate incidents, 115, occurred against Muslims. Furthermore, figures released under a freedom of information request showed the number of racially aggravated assaults in Scottish schools has increased by 155% since 2010 with many incidents involving members of the Muslim community. Muslims were also found to be the least favourably viewed faith group in the Scotland with 21% of people admitting to holding ‘somewhat unfavourable’ or ‘very unfavourable’ views towards Muslims, in data published by the British Council. Almost twice as many respondents agreed that Christianity was compatible with life in Scotland compared to Islam with 80% agreeing with the statement compared to 42% who said Islam was compatible with life in Scotland.

The findings are somewhat surprising given data which suggests Muslims in Scotland are better integrated than their counterparts in England and Wales. A survey in 2011 by the Scottish government found Muslims in Scotland felt that being Scottish was an important part of their identity and that they shared a greater sense of community with people in their locality, regardless of their race or religion. These results were reinforced by findings from a Gallup poll in 2009 which found Muslims’ loyalty to Scotland was viewed more favourably among respondents from the white majority than figures showing perceptions of Muslims’ loyalty to the UK.

Bonino’s research shows that there are areas of policy that are undermining the confidence Scottish Muslims have in their institutions and their self-confidence as equal citizens.


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