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Arson, Attack and Accusation: The Need for Balance And Realism When Considering Islamophobia

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Following the fire at the Darul Uloom School in Chislehurst, south east London on Saturday, three days after fire destroyed the Bravanese Community Centre in Muswell Hill, north London, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe called for unity:

We should not allow the murder of Lee Rigby to come between Londoners. The unified response we have seen to his death across all communities will triumph over those who seek to divide us

In light of the two fires, the Commissioner explained how the Metropolitan Police is intending to provide 24-hour patrols at "vulnerable" Islamic sites across the capital.

For Sir Hogan-Howe to go public would seem to suggest that the current situation is being taken very seriously. The threat of further reprisal attacks following the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich seemingly causing genuine concern.

By stating this, I run the very real risk of one of the various high-profile detractors of Islamophobia lodging one or more accusations against me. Aside from the well worn argument that Islamophobia does not exist, I might instead be accused of over-exaggerating or maybe further fuelling the 'Islamophobia industry' that to them at least, I am a part of.

Personally, I would suggest something quite the contrary. I fail to believe that the country's largest police force would offer 24/7 protection just because a handful of people like myself are alleged to be making overblown claims.

I stress this because as I argued in the Huffington Post last week, every time Islamophobia is mentioned in the media, certain professional naysayers immediately leap into action to dismiss, detract and wag the accusatory finger. What they refuse to acknowledge is that in doing so, they repeatedly ignore the very real people who experience harm, pain and suffering from having become victims of discrimination, bigotry or hate.

And this is why those of us who do take Islamophobia seriously - as indeed all manifestations of discriminatory phenomena - have to change the narrative. To defeat the naysayers, we have to reject overblown and inflammatory language in preference of greater realism and balance.

So here goes...in the wake of Woolwich, there is little doubt that the vast majority of British Muslims will not become victims of an Islamophobically motivated attack. However, some will and indeed have: fact.

As my research from the past decade shows, Islamophobic attacks do not just take place as a response to 'trigger events' such as Woolwich. Islamophobically motivated incidents are as likely to be as ongoing and at times, as random as indeed incidents that are motivated by racism, homophobia and so on. And in line with racism and homophobia, if someone does become a victim of an Islamophobic incident it is far more likely to be low-level, e.g. verbal abuse, being spat on etc.

Where some difference is evident however is in terms of scale and prevalence. From what we know, the number of Islamophobic and racist incidents are far from equitable, the latter being the more widely reported. But as I argued last week, 'numbers' can be used to create unwanted and unnecessary hierarchies of discrimination. The most important thing to remember is that both exist and both need tackling.

And as a society, we have an unparalleled record in tackling discrimination, bigotry and hate through affording protection to those who are most vulnerable. Whether on the basis of 'race' and ethnicity or gender and sexuality, we have always sought to tackle discrimination. Even where the numbers have been extremely low, as in the case of affording protection to trans-people, this has been motivated by the very British notion that all should be able to live equally and without discrimination.

And this is why we have to take Islamophobia seriously. Even if the number of incidents is few, we need to ensure that those whose everyday lives and wellbeing are being detrimentally impacted as a consequence of discrimination, bigotry and hate are not ignored or overlooked. If we allow that very small number of highly vociferous detractors to continue to skew reality, then we are doing a disservice to those who have already become victims.

This is not about being sensationalist or exaggerating: I reject all talk of backlashes and epidemics. At the same time, I also reject those who refute without explanation, who use insult and accusation as a means of deflecting attention away from what is a very real situation.

And that very real situation can be seen in the concerns raised of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. We cannot be complacent about just how vulnerable British Muslims might be in the current climate or how serious the police are taking the threat of potential reprisal attacks irrespective of what some might tell us otherwise.