You know something bad is going to happen when Katie Hopkins begins tweeting about Islam. This time her insults were directed at all 1.6 billion Muslims who in her words were all 'country-wide' celebrating at the time of the horrific Brussels terrorist attack. It does make me wonder how many Muslim friends Katie Hopkins has who are terrorist sympathisers. Sadly, her choice of words are the exact thing groups such as ISIL want to hear. In fact, they speak the same language of hate, intolerance and insanity. I think it's perhaps time Katie Hopkins does the unthinkable and actually visits a mosque or comes to my house for tea. What's even more worrying is that over 1, 479 people retweeted the message she posted. This is one time where I can say with confidence that retweets are endorsements as they normalise the hatred for all Muslims. What was even more disturbing was the comments section in the Katie Hopkins Daily Mail article that followed, which showed a wide range of endorsements of this narrow minded opinion. One user noted; 'Hopkins speaks the truth...'
After having the unenviable task of reading Katie Hopkins tweets, I had the usual trolls who have a lot in common with Katie Hopkins all begin tweeting me at once pictures of Muslim men with beards holding copies of the Quran. Several hours later as predicted, I began to see the use of the hashtag #StopIslam which began trending on Twitter.
Trigger events such as Brussels and indeed the Paris attacks, can lead to an escalation in the online backlash against Muslim communities. No one will forget the #KillallMuslims and how it was used to stereotype and demonise Muslim Communities online after the Paris shooting. Much of what I saw yesterday included Muslims being stereotyped, demonised and dehumanised and specifically direct threats made against Muslims. All of this can lead to Muslim communities feeling a sense of fear, insecurity and vulnerability.
It has become easy to indulge in racist hate-crimes online and many people take advantage of the anonymity to do so. These messages are taken up by people like Katie Hopkins who are quick to use such incidents to stoke up more fear about Islam and hysteria around Muslims. Online Islamophobia has become the norm for Muslims and intensifies after regional and international incidents such as the Rotherham abuse scandal in the UK, the beheading of journalists James Foley, Steven Sotloff and the humanitarian workers David Haines and Alan Henning by the Islamic State, the Woolwich attacks in 2013 and the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015. The Internet is a powerful tool by which people can be influenced to act in a certain way and manner. This is particularly strong when considering hate speech that aims to threaten and incite violence. This also links into the convergence of emotional distress caused by online hate, the nature of intimidation and harassment and the prejudice that seeks to defame Muslims through speech intending to injure and intimidate. One thing we should learn from Brussels is that reprisal attacks online against Muslims will not solve the problem of defeating terrorism. This only helps groups like ISIL continue to spread their propaganda. At the moment people like Katie Hopkins and Donald Trump want us to close our eyes, cover our ears and simply ban Muslims as if this will eradicate the problem. It's time to use social media to counter the hate that we see online. Let's start our own hashtag #terrorismhasnoreligion and #wewillstandtogether.
Dr Imran Awan is an Associate Professor in Criminology and expert on Islamophobia on the Internet. His new book 'Islamophobia in Cyberspace' is published by Routledge (2016).