Anti-Muslim Hate: The Definition Problem

The terms ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘Anti-Muslim hate’ are used regularly in news coverage of certain events. These have most recently involved incidences of a car ram-raiding worshippers outside a mosque in London, and in the depiction of Muslims in the press more generally. However the definition of ‘Islamophobia’ is contested within academic literature. The term entered contemporary public discourse in a 1997 Runnymede Report, titled “Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All”. Academic definitions vary from a fear of Muslims and the faith of Islam, to a more substantial definition that includes “indiscriminate negative attitudes or emotions directed at Islam or Muslims”. The term is used so frequently & widely that it has made it into the dictionary, for instance the Merriam Webster defines Islamophobia as the “irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against Islam or people who practice Islam”. This CARR blog will outline that these terms and their definitions however provide a simplistic account of the incidents that they aim to explain. Of particular concern is that whilst Muslim communities and individuals are victims of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate, so too are those who are deemed to be Muslim; these could be non-religious, Hindu or Sikh individuals and communities.

An example of this is that how – in the aftermath of high profile events perpetrated by Islamic extremists – there is a spike in incidences of anti-Muslim hate. Examples of this include 9/11 attacks in America, the 7/7 attacks in London, the murder of Lee Rigby, the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, and most recently the Manchester Arena bomb which saw a significant increase in the crimes committed towards Muslim communities and individuals. In each of these incidences, the Muslim community is considered to be responsible for the extremists who claim to have perpetrated these acts in the name of Islam. Therefore, in the minds of those who perpetrate these acts of physical violence, intimidation, or vandalism against the Muslim community, they feel justified – aiming their anger at a larger community based on the actions of a few.

However, it has to be taken into consideration that many acts of anti-Muslim hate are directed towards those who the perpetrator believes to be Muslim. For instance the first retaliatory death for 9/11 was that of Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh man who owned a gas station in Arizona. This was followed by the arson of a Sikh temple in New York by teenagers who mistakenly thought that the temple chief, Gobind Sadan, was named after Osama Bin Laden. There is a growing literature on the experience of hate crime by Muslim women due to the visibility of their hijabs, niqabs or coverings. Sikh men can also be understood as being highly visible due to their wearing of the dastar, the turban, which many perceive as being as sign of terrorism due to the head covering worn by Osama bin Laden in many of his videos from the 2000s. This misguided connection has resulted in a number of Sikh men being targeted.

Moreover, it is not exclusively Sikh men who are victims of this type of Islamophobia, it is all those who are believed to look Muslim in the minds of the perpetrator as they believe all those who are Asian, are also Muslim and therefore a valid target of anti-Muslim hate. Whilst the perpetrators of these hate crimes believe they are justified in their acts of retribution, they have limited knowledge about the group they believe they are targeting. The result of this lack of knowledge is that instead of the Muslim community being considered responsible for the acts of terror, all those who fit the ‘idea’ of what a Muslim is becomes individually and collectively responsible, and therefore is a legitimate target for these acts of hate.

This victimisation of non-Muslims creates a discrepancy in the initiatives used to tackle hate crime. Within the Sikh and Hindu communities, the comparative lack of resources or initiatives to promote awareness of hate crime, or to cope with victimisation is a key issue – with some feeling that their community is invisible. Whilst there have been a handful of government and council-lead projects which have aimed to address this imbalance, they have not trickled down to the community level, as many within the communities are unaware of them. Many consider these efforts to be tokenistic, especially when they involve superficial meetings of different congregations, or projects such as Hate Crime Awareness Week as they have no lasting impact and are one off events. This claim is validated in the minds of these communities as even the governments’ Hate Crime Action Plan omits any clear focus or recommendations for the Sikh or Hindu communities, as the focus remains on the Abrahamic faiths: Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

The result of this is that the Hindu and Sikh communities, as well as those who are non-religious within the Asian community, are unsupported in their hate crime victimisation, and increases the sense of alienation. Their places of worship are not as connected with local hate crime initiatives, and are not covered by the Muslim organisation TellMAMA, or the Jewish Community Security Trust (CST), both of which deal with hate crime victimisation and awareness within their communities. This disparity between the resources given to these different religious communities creates a level of resentment between them. The Muslim communities are seen in some areas as receiving a far greater level of assistance by the council and government, and expect assistance from the Sikh and Hindu groups when they are targeted by acts of anti-Muslim hate. However the resentment continues when Sikh or Hindu individuals or groups are targeted by the same hate, and receive no assistance by the council, government, or their Muslim counterparts.

The issue of non-Muslim victimisation of anti-Muslim hate has significant repercussions for community cohesion between different ethnic groups, and also between the different religious communities. The belief that all those who fit the idea of what a Muslim looks like is a valid target for acts of Muslim hate creates tensions between the white and ethnic minority communities, and the lack of hate crime awareness resources within the non-Muslim communities creates tension between them and the Muslim communities. Better then to resource and spread awareness of an all-encompassing understanding of anti-Muslim hatred that effectively binds communities together against prejudice, than tear them apart.

Ms Sadie Chana is a Doctoral Fellow at CARR and a doctoral candidate at Rutherford College, University of Kent. Her profile can be found here:

© Sadie Chana. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors’ and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).