LONDON: Violence and intimidation of Muslims and their places of worship has been at unacceptable levels since 9/11, is the message of a report on 'Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime' launched at the London Muslim Centre on Saturday. The authors call upon the new government to tackle the problem before it deteriorates further.
The report is a part of a ten-year Europe-wide research project into the experience of Muslims as victims of violence, intimidation and discrimination. The research is being conducted by the European Muslim Research Centre of the University of Exeter and sponsored by the Al-Jazeera Centre for Studies. The focus of this report was on case studies from the UK.
"Evidence in the report of specific threats to Muslims is overwhelming and compelling," said co-author of the report Dr Robert Lambert. Examples given include an attack by youths on a 70-year-old man in white robes on his way home from a mosque, and a taxi driver found bleeding from multiple stab wounds to his head who subsequently died.
According to the report, most hate crimes are not reported to police. An example is given of a woman in burqa and niqab who is punched and abused by unknown assailants on a bus home from a shopping centre while her terrified infant daughter looks on. No one in the bus gets up to help her. Other women report regular verbal abuse and intimidation, worse for those who decide to wear the niqab in addition to hijab.
Attacks on mosques and other Islamic institutions are particularly alarming, points out Dr Lambert. Out of 1,600 mosques in the UK many are too frightened to complete the questionnaire sent by researchers.
"In some remote places dreadful accounts are emerging of continuing intimidation, attacks and vandalism," he continues. "At times mosques have become 'hidden' and at others instead of taking action against the vandals, the authorities have advised the Muslims to move their mosques elsewhere."
The authors have so far documented 42 cases in which pig heads, bacon and pork have been used to signal anti-Muslim hatred at mosques and other Islamic institutions. Research in this area is not yet complete and a separate report on violence to mosques will be published.
Aside from actual instances of hate crime speakers at the launch of the report talked about how acceptable it had become to be anti-Muslim. The view has become prevalent amongst media and commentators that a strict adherence to Islam poses a threat to the safety, cohesion and well-being of communities and countries in the UK and in Europe.
"Islamophobia has become deep-seated even in otherwise liberal educated people and Islamophobic language is becoming part and parcel of Western popular culture," said the keynote speaker John Esposito, Professor of Religion, International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University. "The challenge for Western societies is to recognise its extent and accept that it affects the civil liberties of a significant proportion of our population."