Britain is a country of remarkable tolerance but those who are eroding this fundamental value must be held to account.
Earlier this week -the national hate crime awareness week- the Home Office has released new data showing that hate crime has increased by 29% in the past year. Police forces across England and Wales recorded almost 80,400 hate crimes in 2016-2017. These figures are deeply troubling as an independent member of the government's anti-Muslim hatred working group.
The findings suggest that the unprecedented surge has occurred due to the Brexit vote and an increase in terrorist attacks in the UK. However, some claim that these figures are part of an "overblown propaganda" or that "the hate crime epidemic is a self-sustaining myth".
Whatever may be the factors behind the recent surge in hate crimes, it is hard to dispute that hate crime is neither a meaningless nor an imaginary myth rather a reality for many Muslims. The staggering statistics are not simply numbers - these hate crimes have, in the past, snatched away someone's father or grandfather on his way back from the mosque or resulted in a pregnant woman losing her baby in a violent attack while shopping in the supermarket. There have been many incidents of women's headscarves being snatched in streets, and being asked to leave Britain. All of these are enough to make anyone feel scared and vulnerable in their own home, let alone on the street.
Earlier in the month, figures revealed that police forces had recorded 110 hate crimes directed at Muslim places of worship between March and July this year, up from 47 over the same six month period in 2016. This trend of attacking Muslims and their institutions is worldwide. In the US, the figures showed that between January to July 2017, every month nine mosques were targets of threats, vandalism or arson.
Anti Muslim prejudice is often perpetuated by fear and a sense that Muslims are taking over our jobs, our homes and our country, thus leading to a polarizing society. This fear is compounded by wrongly dovetailing terrorism to Islam.
This week the UK Office for National Statistics in its quarterly update reported a 13% increase in all police-recorded offences across England and Wales. Trump erroneously links this rise to the "spread of radical Islamic terror". Trump's hate-filled tweet was immediately used by the far-right groups to stir up hatred towards Muslims. The newspaper columnist Katie Hopkins quoted Trump's tweet with a reference to "child rape squads", which was in turn retweeted by Paul Watson, the alt-right conspiracy theorist.
The anxiety and suspicion towards Muslims is prompted by not only the far right movement and populist leaders but also some mainstream journalists. Many studies have already shown that mainstream media reporting about Muslim communities is contributing to an atmosphere of rising hostility towards British Muslims. The inflammatory headlines such as 'Christian child forced into Muslim foster care' or articles talking about sex grooming as a 'Muslim problem' either conflate an isolated incident with the religion of the perpetrator or offer a skewed portrayal of Muslims. The far-right groups seize on such stories as a vindication for Islamophobia.
Islamophobia is so ripe that Islamophobic hate crimes against non-Muslims are also happening, according to a recent study, because the victims are perceived to be Muslims.
Britain is not a rancid, rage-fuelled place but the soaring hate crimes and in particular anti-Muslim hatred, must be tackled, through legislation, the criminal justice system, objective media reporting and education. The government must continue to monitor the rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes as a key priority and challenge those who stir up hatred; the effective implementation of the hate crime action plan will be a milestone in tackling hate crimes. Education is critical in preserving our values of tolerance and embracing others. No one is born hating others- if hating others can be taught, so can loving others!
The regular smears about Islam or Muslims by those in high offices and the sections of the mainstream media and the conflation of Islam with criminality must stop. There is a real danger that such prejudice will further stoke up anti-Muslim hatred and provide fuel for an already growing number of acts of violence against the Muslim community across the UK.
Acknowledging that hate crimes are a reality for many in Britain is the first step to tackling hatred.
Qari Asim is an Imam and a member of the government's anti-Muslim hatred working group. He can be reached at @QariAsimSuggest a correction