Statistics released by the Metropolitan Police reveal that the number of Islamophobic hate crimes in London has increased by 70% in the past year. For the year ending July 2015, the Met recorded a total of 816 Islamophobic hate crimes; in 2014, the number was 478, itself an increase of around 65% on the previous year. Increases were evident across every London borough, the most staggering in Waltham Forest and Merton where the numbers of Islamophobic hate crimes increased by 270% and 263% respectively. Other boroughs of note include Islington (175%), Lewisham (160%), Hackney (137%) and Lambeth (135%).
Three thoughts emerge.
The first was to think about how those on the Islamophobia spectrum have sought to dismiss out of hand the very existence of the exact same phenomenon. Typically justifying such a view on a perceived lack of evidence that 'proves' Islamophobia exists, they point to the dearth of Islamophobia-specific official or governmental data that has been historically available. As I have argued here in the Huffington Post, a lack of evidence about 'numbers' alone does not mean that Islamophobia is not taking place, quite the contrary in fact. As with my own research, there is now ample qualitative evidence which poignantly illustrates the ugly realities of contemporary Islamophobia, detrimentally impacting the everyday lives of too many ordinary people who become victims solely because they happen to be identified as being Muslim. It will be interesting to see how those who reject Islamophobia will seek to counter these new statistics.
The second was to ask why similar statistics are not available for other police forces across Britain. In fact the Metropolitan Police is somewhat anomalous in that it is one of the few police forces to record 'Islamophobic hate crimes' separately from others. I know this because it was discussed on a number of separate occasions during meetings of the Cross-Government Working Group on Anti-Muslim Hate I participated in (I was an independent member from 2012 to 2014). Given Antisemitic hate crimes have been recorded separately by police forces for some time now, doing the same for any Islamophobic equivalent did not appear to be something that would be either too big or problematic to implement. Despite this, all requests to do so were repeatedly rejected. This may change in the near future if the Home Secretary, Theresa May delivers on a pledge made shortly before the General Election this year. As she stated, a future Conservative Government would seek to introduce legislation that as well as making Islamophobic hate crime a more serious offence would also require all police forces to record Islamophobic hate crimes separately. Whilst welcome, the downside is that this would be incorporated within new counter-terror legislation something that might send out a potentially conflicting message.
My final thought was about why we might be surprised by the increase in Islamophobic hate crime illustrated by these statistics. With or without the statistics, Islamophobia has been a recurrent feature in recent stories that have been covered to varying degrees in the newspapers and broadcast media. These include the murder of Muhsin Ahmed, an 81 year old pensioner who was attacked on his way to a mosque in Rotherham; the violent attack against Qaiser Hamid, a nurse who was beaten by a gang in Stockport that had previously mocked his beard; and the two men who were shot at with air rifle pellets as they left a mosque in Nelson, Lancashire. Indicative of numerous other events and incidents occurring across the length and breadth of the country, Islamophobia is there for all to see. Sadly, very few have taken this seriously.
Without question, the Metropolitan Police should be roundly praised for leading the field in terms of recording Islamophobic hate crimes and for affording us a timely opportunity to collectively and societally reflect on this unwanted and unnecessary discriminatory phenomenon. Whether increasing, decreasing or merely staying the same however, it is crucial that we neither forget nor allow others to deflect attention from the harm, pain and suffering that all hate crimes cause. It is for this reason that we need to ensure that Islamophobic hate crime is taken seriously, as seriously that is as regards all hate crimes quite irrespective of the markers of identification such are perpetrated.