A new service has been launched this week enabling Muslims to report anti-Muslim discrimination. The initiative by Faith Matters must be applauded and can be a milestone in challenging Islamophobia.
Over the past four years, my own research about Islamophobia has highlighted the need to recognise and challenge Islamophobia. This is evidenced in the growth of the far right across Europe over the last 10 years and more disturbingly, the increasing tendency for their Islamophobic rhetoric to be replicated in the mainstream. For example, a recent poll showed that 45% of Britons are not ashamed to admit that they think there are 'too many' Muslims in Britain. Numerous other studies also suggest similar widespread suspicion and dislike of Muslims.
And these attitudes are not just privately held grudges. They can materialise aggressively, such as in the instances in recent years when Muslim victims have been left paralysed, blinded and brain damaged, have been beaten to death and have seen their mosques subjected to arson attacks. These disturbing and often ignored attacks are also found in other European countries such as in France where Muslim war graves were recently desecrated and in Switzerland where dead pigs were recently left on a mosque site.
Remarkably, some people are still in denial about the prevalence of Islamophobia, even going as far as suggesting that Islamophobia is a myth. The new service will help quash any misconceptions about Islamophobia not existing by producing statistical data on the nature of Islamophobia in Britain. Victims will be able to classify their experiences as one of six types: extreme violence, assault, damage of property, threats, abusive behaviour, and propagation of anti-Muslim literature. Details will also emerge of where in the country Islamophobia is most prominent so authorities can concentrate their campaigns most effectively.
I expect the service to confirm what Muslims are already well aware of; that Islamophobia exists and has serious implications. Muslims know this because of everyday experiences which involve being mocked, abused or harassed to different degrees, solely on account of their faith.
Although minorities tend not to report hate crime due to a belief that reporting such incidents will be fruitless, Muslims should be encouraged to utilise this new service so that the presence of Islamophobia can be made starkly clear.
This quantifying is a vital step forward in combating Islamophobia, which is an urgent cause since allowing Islamophobia to flourish can have harmful consequences. For instance, widespread Islamophobia not only means that a large section of society is unfairly demonised and marginalised, but its presence can also alienate Muslims and discourage them from feeling they can contribute to wider society. When such a hostile climate is left unchallenged, extremist and intolerant ideas have more chance of alluring some disaffected Muslims.
This new initiative can be a turning point that marks a shift from Islamophobia only ever being recorded as racism. It can be a moment when the on-going efforts of community leaders and activists to have Islamophobia recognised as a distinct form of prejudice can be achieved. It may assist in recognising Islamophobia as a unique form of prejudice just as anti-semitism is recognised. To this end, the new service parallels the efforts of the Community Security Trust in monitoring anti-semitism and regularly releasing revealing data. If Faith Matters can produce data that is as insightful, they will be doing a great service to society.
While the reporting and monitoring of Islamophobic incidents is long overdue and can be a major leap forward, it must also be coupled with proactive efforts by people of all faiths to engage in dialogue to overcome the ignorance that unnecessarily pushes people apart. Muslims therefore not only have an obligation to speak up and report Islamophobia, but also to be courageous in explaining what Islam actually means to them so that Islamophobic misconceptions cannot continue to circulate.
Islamophobic incidents can be reported to the new service via the following means:
Freephone: 0800 456 1226
SMS: 0115 707 00 07