Muslim groups in Britain have welcomed the government’s announcement that police forces across England and Wales will be obliged to separately record data on hate crimes against Muslims.
London’s Metropolitan Police Service already records figures specific to attacks against Muslims, and in September reported a 71 percent hike in physical, verbal and online Islamophobic crimes.
But under new rules, all forces in England and Wales will be compelled to report data on Islamophobic attacks separately, in the same way they already record anti-Semitic crimes.
Tell MAMA, which monitors attacks on Muslims in the UK, told Al Arabiya News that it welcomed the change that it says will “ensure all forces categorize anti-Muslim hate.”
Fiyaz Mughal, Director of Tell MAMA, said: “We have been campaigning for uniformity in the recording processes in forces in England and Wales for some time now and whilst we support victims of anti-Muslim hatred and map, measure and monitor anti-Muslim hatred, this should be parallel with and in partnership with police forces.
“Police forces usually receive cases which are more around the aggressive end of anti-Muslim hatred... So we warmly welcome the announcement from the Prime Minister and this announcement also sucks the oxygen out of those groups who promote a narrative that the Government or Britain is against Muslims - it is not.”
Islamophobia on the rise
According to Tell MAMA, in the past three-and-a-half-years the organization has supported more than 4,500 victims of Islamophobic attacks – resulting in what it says were hundreds of arrests.
It has been widely reported that there has been an apparent increase in the number of hate crimes directed at Muslims in Britain.
In May 2013 British soldier Lee Rigby was murdered by Islamist extremists in a daylight attack in southeast London. In the days that followed crimes against Muslims in London soared – with the London Met recording 104 in that one month alone.
And Manchester’s police force saw crimes against Muslims nearly double to 130 in 2013, up from 75 the previous year.
But other police forces have not historically recorded information regarding hate crimes against Muslims.
A South Yorkshire Police spokesman told the Mirror newspaper in 2013 that its crime-management system did not “facilitate the recording of anti-Muslim hate crime separately to other forms of religious hate crimes.” The spokesman added that the system solely relied “on what information is entered by the inputter recording the crime.”
A spokesman for Northumbria Police, in the north of England, also said at the time that it does not hold information specifically for anti-Muslim hate crimes.
Reluctance to report
Under the new rules this will have to change. But whether the new police statistics will be accurately reflect reality remains to be seen, given both the apparent reluctance of victims to report crimes, as well as the reported reluctance of witness to come forward.
Several Muslim groups in the UK, including the Muslim Council of Britain, say that hate crimes are often not reported by the victims. And new research also suggests witnesses of attacks are often reluctant to come forward or help, Al Arabiya News reported on Monday.
The recent academic research found that attacks against Muslims in the UK included one case in which a woman was doused with alcohol on a train, and another who was kicked and punched after her attackers pulled off her hijab.
According to the report these cases were examples of where onlookers or police refused to act. Researchers from Birmingham City and Nottingham Trent universities revealed that a “public refusal to help” was common in several hate attacks against UK Muslims, in what they said reflects a worrying broader trend.
‘A first step’
Miqdaad Versi, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said he welcomed Cameron’s announcement about recording anti-Muslim crimes, but stressed that it was only a “first step”, and that the government should continue its efforts to prevent hate crime against Muslims, something he said was clearly on the increase.
He said the Metropolitan Police’s data on rising Islamophobic attacks is not something unique to London, but a pattern seen across the UK.
Versi told Al Arabiya News that the wider collection of data was something his organization and others had been calling for for many years.
“It is important that there is the ability for police forces to record Islamophobic crime separately, just so that we can identify the cause of that crime and deal with it in creating an appropriate strategy,” he told Al Arabiya News.
Versi said that the data gathered would help identify trouble hotspots around the UK and aid the police in identifying problems.
He said he believed that as the police became more aware of the issue that this would ultimately lead to an increase in reporting attacks, whether verbal, physical or via social media.
He added: “I think that Islamophobia is not really recognized at the moment. And we cannot know this until we have the data to support it. But anecdotally this is a serious situation.
“We know that 50 percent of the British population consider Islam as a threat to the UK, according to a poll from the Huffington Post... We know that 37 percent of the British population believes there are too many Muslims in the UK. We know the same thing is true of young children with over 30 percent thinking there [are] too many Muslims in the UK.”
Versi said that these attitudes were “entrenched in many people across the UK because of the media onslaught about Muslims - and linking that to terrorism... and other related issues as well.”