November marks Islamophobia Awareness Month. It is encouraging to see NUS making it compulsory for universities to organise events related to Islamophobia Awareness, as well as a number of universities hosting exhibitions and stalls highlighting the positive contribution British Muslims make to society. It’s also important that universities and other institutions deconstruct and challenge the narrative around Islam and Muslims.
In recent years islamophobia has been on the increase. As an example, Islamophobic attacks soared more than 500% in Greater Manchester after the suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert. In one case, Naveed Yasin, a trauma and orthopaedic surgeon who helped save the lives of people injured in the Manchester attack was racially abused and labelled a “terrorist” when he was on his way back to work at Salford Royal hospital.
Islamophobia isn’t confined to one area or one city. London’s Met Police recorded 1260 incidents of Islamophobic hate crime in the 12 months to March 2017. The issue of Islamophobia hasn’t suddenly come to light but has been going on for several years. In 2013, Ukrainian neo-Nazi, Pavlo Lapshyn murdered 82 year old Mohammed Saleem and tried to bomb several West Midlands mosques in the hope of instigating a “race war”. In 2014, a neo-Nazi, Ian Forman was jailed for 10 years after plotting to bomb mosques in Merseyside.
Unfortunately, anti-Muslim prejudice still exists in society and it should be our duty to stamp out any form of sexism, racism, bigotry, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia for there is no justification of hate crime whatsoever.
Many British Muslims feel they are under threat. From walking in the streets to Twitter posts, Islamophobia takes place both online and offline. There has been a rapid rise in the number of Islamophobic comments posted online. Accounts like Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins aggravate the situation.
The unacceptable, degrading and defamatory comments that come from characters like Tommy and Katie are a threat to integration and social cohesion in modern Britain and its the duty of Twitter and other social media giants to do all in their power to put an end to such behaviour because frankly, not enough is being done.
A few days ago, Twitter introduced 280 characters for all accounts but months after I had reported an Islamophobic account, it's still up and running. We can’t continue to let these comments spread because they incite hatred and promote prejudice against Muslims and often such comments are wrapped up in the context of ‘free speech’.
We all know that Islamophobia is on the rise but what can be done to stamp this out of society. Firstly, it is of utmost importance for the government and the citizens of this country to realise that Islamophobia is hate crime and is an issue for the whole country. It is not a made up phenomenon and it is certainly not an attention seeking stunt for British Muslims.
Just a few weeks ago, Tapan Ghosh, a Hindu nationalist who is known for his anti-Muslim comments spoke at an event in Parliament last week which was hosted by Bob Blackman, Conservative MP for Harrow East. Tapan has called for the UN to control the birth rate of Muslims and has often praised the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Burma. Tapan has also called for Muslims to leave their religion if they come to a Western country.
I can go on and on and list many abhorrent comments made by Tapan Ghosh but the point being made is, if such a deluded man can go and address an event in the mother of all parliaments, there is a serious issue here. Although Bob Blackman doesn't agree with many of Tapan’s views, he still backed Tapan’s visit and reaffirmed his commitment to free speech, almost endorsing his visit which is absolutely outrageous.
Free speech and democracy are wonderful assets of this country but that doesn’t mean an outsider from India can mock the entire religion and break the responsibility which comes from free speech. We expect the highest of standards from our elected representatives and in this instance, we can see Islamophobia not being addressed and in fact deliberately sidelined. Thus, parliament and MPs have a duty to promote religious unity, social integration and uphold the values of diversity, tolerance and religious freedom.
Furthermore, we need a cross party working group which regularly monitors cases and directly deals with Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred. This group should look to regularly meet and discuss ways in which this crime can come to an end. It would be of most benefit if this group directly reports to the Home Office Secretary and that its findings are made public, unless of course security and confidentiality prevents this from happening.
As well as experienced MPs, the group should consist of a variety of community leaders, Imam’s and other notable figures. The group should focus on promoting social cohesion, community togetherness and reinstilling confidence in communities. The group should also focus on correcting any misconceptions around British Muslims and to work with external organisations to monitor Islamophobia. Clearly all forms of racism and bigotry are unacceptable and the government must spearhead campaigns which look to end Islamophobia, anti-semitism, anti-black racism and homophobia.
As mentioned previously, there have been a number of instances online where Muslims are verbally abused and often targeted solely because of their religion. I would like to reemphasize the need for Twitter, Facebook and other large corporations to suspend and delete accounts where this occurs regularly. These companies need to take a hardline approach when dealing with Islamophobia and any instances of religious hatred, religious discrimination, anti-Muslim hatred and Islamophobia must be stamped out.
Universities face cases where students are victims of Islamophobic hate crime. Student Unions across the UK must have a designated officer where victims can confidently share their experiences. I would urge universities across the UK to take part in hate crime training so particular officers and certain university administration staff are trained to deal with this but above all, any instances of Islamophobia should be reported to the police and not silenced within the university walls.
It is of paramount importance that the police are aware of such cases and that universities can provide support to victims. In addition to that, universities should actively take part in Islamophobia Awareness Month, working with religious societies to celebrate, not just tolerate the religious and cultural diversity on campus. Universities could host Interfaith week, exhibitions, political awareness talks, support sessions and a variety of other events which would bring societies together and promote the good work being done by British Muslims in the UK.
Clearly, the suggestions above are not an exhaustive list but some suggestions as to how to tackle Islamophobia. As a civilized and respectful society, it should be our duty to ensure that no one is discriminated against because of their religion and if it does occur, we should stamp it out at the earliest possible level and not let fear change the way we live.