The recent Independent article highlighted the sharp rise in mosque attacks that have been seen across the country and which Tell MAMA has been systematically documenting for over 4 years now. Attacks on mosques, we have said time and time again, have a wider destructive impact on Muslim communities who use it – with some reading into the attack that they are not wanted or that they are not part of the local community. Such mosque attacks can potentially therefore cause long term impacts on cohesion, the further escalation of hate crimes and in the worst instances, the possibility of further public order offences. Allied to this, all of the data we have, shows that terrorism in particular leads to very large spike points of anti-Muslim hatred and that terrorism is the major driver of incidents and attacks against Muslim communities at specific points when they take place. This basic fact cannot be denied and it also has impacts on cohesion and with the cyclical fuelling of far-right extremism and hatred towards Muslims.
To provide context to the Independent article, it is important to state the following given the fact that there are other issues that drive anti-Muslim sentiment. Terrorism is one, inflammatory media headlines are another and we have seen this when headlines are emblazoned across front pages, only for minute retractions to be printed after IPSO complaints. Such work, (of holding to account stories that are not factually accurate and meant to sell more newspapers or drive more traffic to a web-site), is essential and we salute those who carry out this vital work since it does help to reframe facts from fiction. There are a growing number of activists from Muslim and non-Muslim communities doing this and we value their much-needed work and long may it continue.
We also understand that many people will focus on complaining about inflammatory and inaccurate press headlines, just as we focus on supporting victims of anti-Muslim hatred and in monitoring and mapping cases of anti-Muslim hatred across the country. This does not make them Islamists, nor should their work be curtailed since holding to account the powerful is a fundamental plank of a healthy democracy. What is a problem, is when some believe that the media is the only driver of anti-Muslim hatred and who choose to deny or even acknowledge that terrorist attacks create further animosity, tensions and divisions, apart from brutally murdering so many innocent people and scarring families for life.
These deniers may be led by a belief that terrorism is not their responsibility, and that is a position that they can hold. We understand that position though we do not take it, since there is a social responsibility, we believe, in calling out hate. Hate drives terrorism and has huge community impacts and we will always call it out, in all of its forms.
Others truly do not want to talk about terrorism, taking a head in the sand approach, whilst others just deny what is blatantly obvious, in some vain attempt to protect Muslims and Islam, as though not talking about it, might not shine a light on the large spike points that come about because of terrorism and the subsequent targeting of Muslims by bigots. It is the latter position, of believing that the media alone is responsible for anti-Muslim hatred, which is a position that does not hold and which may drive by ideology rather than fact.
Or take those who use any opportunity to create further hatred and division, as though they are the moral guardians of Muslim communities, when the only guardianship we should be considering around hate crime work, are the voices and well-being of victims. They might shout the loudest, but they are doing no justice to real work on the ground in supporting victims and in bringing communities together.
Additionally, it is clear is that the vast majority of anti-Muslim hate incidents are opportunistic in nature and where individuals come across visible Muslims. In many of the cases that we have worked on, language related to terrorist attacks is thrown at visible Muslims, such as “you were responsible for Manchester”. The link between terrorism, opportunism and perpetrator emboldenment are clear. Some of the emboldening of perpetrators may well be due to press articles and comment pieces which blame all Muslims for extremism and terrorism, whilst for others, they may have come across far right extremist material or anti-Muslim rhetoric. Causation factors are many, including terrorism and that is the picture. It is neither one or another, but a combination of factors.