Anti-Muslim hate crime, which spikes following terror attacks, is inextricably intertwined with racism.
This article has been difficult to write because I was hoping that, in 2019, I would not need to start talking about international terrorism and how it can impact the streets of Britain. Instead, we are focusing on the terrible events that happened in Christchurch, New Zealand, where a far-right extremist shot and killed 50 Muslims during Friday prayers at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques on March 15.
My worry was that these attacks would trigger further violence and a perception of a “them versus us” culture. What we know is that — following terrorist attacks in Paris and Tunisia, and in Woolwich in 2013 — we tend to see a sharp rise in anti-Muslim attacks. Indeed, Britain’s biggest force, the Metropolitan Police, recorded 500 anti-Muslim hate crimes following the Woolwich attack, in which British Army Fusilier Lee Rigby was brutally murdered by two British nationals who recently converted to Islam.
These incidents include those where mosques have been targeted — the latest incidents taking place just last week in Birmingham — Muslim women have had their hijab (headscarf) or niqab (face veil) pulled off, Muslim men attacked and racist graffiti scrawled on Muslim graves and properties. Muslims, particularly those with a visible Muslim identity, are more vulnerable to anti-Muslim hostility, intimidation, abuse and threats of violence.
The prevalence and severity of such anti-Muslim hate crimes are influenced by trigger events of local, national and international significance. The danger is that hate crimes are often provoked by antecedent events that incite a desire for retribution in the targeted group — and toward the group that shares similar characteristics to the perpetrators — will form again. From this perspective, hate crimes increase following trigger events as they operate to galvanize tensions and sentiments against the suspected perpetrators and groups associated with them.
In my joint research project, looking at anti-Muslim hostility, we found that after the Woolwich attack, the people we interviewed often cited terrorist antecedent trigger events that induced a significant increase in their anti-Muslim hate crime experiences. Sarah told us: “I know sisters who have been punched, being shouted at on the street, being pulled and pushed around by people, had their houses being burned down.” Ahmed stated: “I have figured out over the years that this happens when there is a terrorist attack in the news committed by Muslims so Islamophobia happens even more.”
We also spoke to people who had suffered anti-Muslim hate following high-profile terrorist attacks around the world such as the 2014 Sydney hostage crisis, the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, and the shootings in Copenhagen and Tunisia the same year. Reflecting a spike in both online and offline anti-Muslim hate crime, Hamza stated: “I have received Islamophobic abuse in social media and on the street on various occasions. After the Sydney incident, I received Islamophobic remarks on four separate occasions in the space of two weeks.” According to Asma, “After the Paris attacks, I got a lot of nasty comments especially on social media.”
In a globally connected world, the actions by one terrorist group such as the so-called Islamic State (IS) can lead to counter-reactions and impacts on Muslims in the UK. Participants we spoke to pointed out that they were “bombarded with online abuse and offline threats” as IS rose to prominence, especially following the release of videos showing beheadings, or when there was a terror threat made against the UK linked to the group.
Sarah told us: “I was on my way to the shops and people shouted at me, ‘Why don’t we chop your head off?’” In another case, people on the street shouted, “Your head will be much better on the floor.” Along similar lines, Aisha said: “The cancer of ISIS and the atrocities that Boko Haram commit in Nigeria, when these incidents happen anti-Muslim hate crime does rise too.” She added that on her birthday, “a group of white men shouted at me and my sister, ‘You Muslim scums, supporters of ISIS, tell us how much you hate Britain!’’’
In addition to the significance of trigger events and the visibility of the Muslim identity, this highlights that both race and religion are interlinked in anti-Muslim hate crime. Within this framework, the Muslim identity has been subject to a process of racialization whereby this identity is defined on the basis of the individual’s race rather than exclusively on the basis of their religion. Indeed, we found that anti-Muslim hate crime and racism were inextricably intertwined.
From this perspective, anti-Muslim hate crime is understood as a “new” form of racism, which can be attributed to Islamophobic, anti-Muslim attitudes as well as to racist sentiments. In this regard, it is crucial that we counter the negative viewpoint that all Muslims are “bad,” and that law-abiding Muslims in the UK should suffer anti-Muslim hostility because they believe in Islam. Instead, we need to show signs of solidarity and unity in the face of terrorism and work together to prevent further reprisal attacks against all communities. Because if we don’t, we only play into the hands of the extremists who want to divide and conquer.
Professor Imran Awan is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Professor in Criminology at Centre for Applied Criminology, Birmingham City University. His profile can be found here:
© Imran Awan. 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).
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