Anti-Muslim hate crime destroys lives and breaks up communities: It is time the government got a grip on the issue

Hate crime is a particularly pernicious form of criminality that can significantly impact upon its victims, their families and wider communities (The Metropolitan Police response to FOI request, October 2016).

According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission on the causes and motivations on hate crime (2016), hate crime can be explained by two broad overarching categories (2016, p. 7).

Firstly, hate crime can be explained through a socio-psychological lens and can be fuelled as a consequence of intergroup emotions and a perceived threat to, for instance, socioeconomic wellbeing or cultural values (Ibid.,).

Hate crime can also be explained by structural factors whereby ‘social processes’ such as societal norms and values or practices and interventions (used by statutory agencies for example), may foster a social situation in which certain groups in society can feel marginalised or stigmatised (2016, p. 8).

To be clear, evidence on the causes of hate crime are not yet conclusive. However, the socio-psychological approach centring on threats is particularly interesting and has increasingly gained legitimacy in recent times. Academics argue that threats can be divided into ‘realistic threats’ – such as perceived competition over resources: jobs, housing etc. and ‘symbolic threats’, perceived as threats to people’s values and social norms (Zárate et al., 2004; Rousseau, ‎2007).

Presently, feelings of threat, realistic and symbolic, are being intensified during a time of fiscal austerity, wage stagnation, rising costs of living, diminished job-security, a heightened threat of terrorism and a very recent immigration debate during the Brexit referendum which struck a tone more symbolic of Enoch Powell’s 1968 Rivers of Blood speech than a modern day, informed debate. These factors combined are creating a melting pot of sorts from which hate crime can more readably manifest.

It is perhaps unsurprising then that racialised hate crime has risen so sharply in recent times, with one report revealing a 505% increase in Islamophobic hate crime.

From acid attacks to the recent Finsbury Park Mosque terror attack, to Muslim women being violently attacked and having their hijabs violently removed at knife point, many people within the Muslim community are feeling especially victimised in recent times. At the of writing a mosque has been set on fire and a Muslim person has been spat on in the face and her friends attacked.

Interestingly, regarding the acid attacker, his Facebook page contains comments which fit neatly into academic analysis. One post read: “A sleeping lion can only be provoked so much before it wakes up and attacks…and so will us British” whilst another stated, “We will stand and we will fight. We will reclaim what is rightfully ours. We will not surrender.”

Perpetrators and many right-wing extremists often justify or rationalise their attacks by suggesting they are defending their country against some kind of “evil invader” as evidenced in this article and the attacker’s Facebook posts – which clearly illustrate feelings of ‘symbolic threats’.

Of course we must be careful not to limit our analyses to the extent that a sense of threat is the only driver of hate crime. There is also a lot of credibility to the structuralist argument and entrenched racism exists and manifests in various forms – whether at a subconscious institutional level or a conscious individual level.

But it is a fact that one’s environment can have a profound impact on one’s agency and current cuts to public services, education and the police forces alongside the rising threat of terror are exacerbating feelings of threat. In 2017, hate crime should not be rising, regardless of world events.

In a previous post we commented on (and made recommendations) about the role of the press. But there is much more that needs to be done to address hate crime. If we are serious about overcoming hate crime we need to mitigate symbolic and realistic threats by tackling rising inequality (universal inequality including across ethnic, gendered and religious lines that is), reversing funding cuts to the police forces and investing in projects and organisations that address issues of marginalisation, feelings of isolation and lack of self-confidence. Our Racialisation of Muslim Names report (forthcoming), due to be released in August 2017, explores some of these issues more fully.

In this article, having adopted a socio-psychological perspective to understanding hate crime, Bridge Institute makes the following recommendations, in the addition to the above, to mitigating more immediate feelings of threat within the Muslim community:

  1. We encourage the government to revise and reverse funding cuts to police funding. According to the HMIC, PEEL: Police effectiveness 2016 report “police capabilities that are needed now and will continue to be needed in the future, such as skilled investigators and neighbourhood policing, are insufficient or being eroded”. At a time when the ONS statistics show the biggest rise in crime in a decade and terrorist attacks are occurring more frequently, it is essential that our police forces  have the necessary resources and infrastructure in place so that they are able to perform to their maximum capacity and restore citizens’ comfort and confidence in the country’s security services.
  2. We welcome and encourage the governments pledge to fund £2.4m for a number of schemes including security measures at vulnerable faith institutions as noted in the Home Office, Action Against Hate report, 2016. However, more needs to be done and we encourage the government to expedite the delivery of security services and ensure all religious institutions receive the necessary protections at the soonest possible date.
  3. We recommend the government take action against online hate crime and we encourage the Home Office to work more closely with civil society and social media companies to run counter-narrative projects including around anti-Muslim hate speech. Regarding Muslims, we believe members of the government and some journalists have conflated everyday interpretations of Islam with extremism, especially in the early stages of the war against terror. This conflation has the potential to arouse feelings of ‘symbolic threats’ including fear of a loss of values and social norms, and we urge the government to undergo extra efforts to reverse this association.
  4. The Government should adopt and execute a formal definition of anti-Muslim prejudice. It will act as an essential step to legitimising the reality and seriousness of Islamophobic hate crime. Without formal acknowledgement British Muslims may feel discriminated against – serving as barriers to integration into public life and subsequently reinforcing segregation and heightening difference between communities.
  5. We encourage the government to review and reverse funding cuts to public services such as libraries and play centres. Public spaces are essential for intergroup contact (Brown and Hewstone, 2005) which heighten trust between individuals of all backgrounds serving to dispel and reduce feelings of threat.

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