When are we going to take Islamophobia seriously?

Imran Awan
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The terrorist attack outside a north London mosque in the early hours of Monday has again raised questions about how we deal with the threat posed from far-right extremists.

Eyewitnesses claimed the perpetrator (Darren Osborne) had shouted: “I’m going to kill all Muslims,” while gesturing and laughing at the same time. The attack comes after new evidence that shows the number of suspected far-right extremists who have been referred to the government’s anti-terrorism program has soared by 30 percent in the past year.

The government’s controversial Prevent scheme has disproportionately focused on Islamist terrorism. And yet the figures seem to show something different. Official statistics show a record number of white people were arrested last year on suspicion of terrorism offences. For example, white suspects now make up 35 percent (1 in 3) of all terror related arrests in 2016 alone.

David Anderson QC, the former reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation, also warned that far-right extremism is: “as murderous as its Islamist equivalent”. Yet, why have we not learnt any lessons? The death of Jo Cox MP and also Mohammed Saleem in Birmingham should have been the catalyst for helping policy makers better understand and address the threat posed by home-grown far-right extremists.

Let’s not also forget the case of Anders Breivik, the Norway bomber who described himself as a Christian fundamentalist. In his interview with Norwegian police he openly expressed his deep anti-Islamist views as a cause for his actions.

In the days after the Manchester arena terror attack on May 22 two new videos surfaced on Facebook. In one video, a man is seen brandishing a machete while wearing a fake grenade and making racist comments in which he threatened to blow up mosques.

He was eventually charged for his anti-Muslim video rant. In the second video, a man in an Everton shirt is making comments about recent terrorist attacks and threatening “to take every Muslim out...” The footage of both videos was widely shared on social media platforms but now appear to have been deleted.

In 2016, I was invited to present evidence before the Home Affairs Select Committee where among a number of issues, I raised my concerns about how far-right groups are using social media to galvanise tensions and sow hatred.

Monday’s terror attack has shown that Islamophobic hate crimes are real. These attacks are often provoked by antecedent events that incite a desire for retribution in the targeted group, toward the group that share similar characteristics to the perpetrators

Imran Awan

Islamophobic hate crimes

My research into Islamophobia after the murder of Lee Rigby found some problematic links between individuals associated with the far-right, and those who had made both provocative and threatening comments. For example, some of the comments from figures linked to the far-right included: “Blow up every mosque” and “Horrible dirty Pakis! Kill them all!!! murdering scum don’t deserve to be in this country.”

Following the terrorist attacks in Paris and Tunisia in 2015, and in Woolwich, southeast London where British Army soldier Drummer Lee Rigby was murdered in 2013, we have seen a continued sharp rise in anti-Muslim attacks. From Muslim women have had their hijab (headscarf) or niqab (face veil) pulled off, to racist graffiti being scrawled against Muslim mosques, graves and properties.

A recent analysis of Tell MAMA’s (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) (a third party reporting mechanism) data found 548 verified incidents (of 729) reported to them concerning anti-Muslim abuse. My research into Islamophobic hate crimes, have shown that victims who have a ‘visible’ Muslim identity, are more vulnerable to anti-Muslim hostility, intimidation, abuse and threats of violence and the perpetrators are overwhelmingly white male.

Monday’s terror attack has shown that Islamophobic hate crimes are real. These attacks are often provoked by antecedent events that incite a desire for retribution in the targeted group, towards the group that share similar characteristics to the perpetrators.

From this perspective, Islamophobic hate crimes increase following “trigger” events as they operate to galvanise tensions and sentiments against Muslims. Muslims in Britain, are now living in fear, because of the possibility of another attack occurring.

The risk also is that the constant threat of Islamophobic hatred will force people to adopt a siege mentality and keep a low profile in order to reduce the potential for future attacks. This cannot be good for any society.

We must start to recognize the threat posed by far-right extremists and have an honest and open conversation with the British public about Islamophobia.
Dr Imran Awan is an Associate Professor in Criminology at Birmingham City University. He is the author and editor of several books and papers in the area of Islamophobia, hate crimes and extremism. His new co-authored book; Islamophobia: Lived Experiences of Online and Offline Victimisation is published by Policy Press. He tweets at: @DrImranAwan.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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