Articles on the idea of ‘Islamophobia’ are 10-a-penny online, and fall into familiar patterns of advocacy, scepticism or blame. Tim Black’s recent piece on spiked contains a number of familiar claims, but also explores the idea of Islamophobia as a kind of phantasmic ‘Muslim victimhood’. I, unsurprisingly, disagree – but welcome the opportunity to respond.
To begin with, let’s look at the facts. Tell Mama (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) is no stranger to criticism of its data, and, as a recent independent report notes, we’ve made successful efforts to further improve reporting standards. We’re not alone in finding an increase in Islamophobic attacks, either. Police FoI data shows that, among forces recording Islamophobic hate crime, there was a 458 per cent increase in hate crimes in the two weeks after the murder of Lee Rigby relative to a year before. In London, the MPS recorded a jump from 22 cases in April 2013 to 109 and 113 cases in May and June. These represent investigated hate crimes, not just reports. It’s possible to debate reporting models and their accuracy – we’re open to that – but something definitely seemed to happen after Lee Rigby’s murder, and it seems to involve numerous recorded attacks on Muslims. If critics believe – in the face of evidence – that ‘hate crime’ is a figment of our imagination, then it’s impossible to have a productive discussion.
Online hate is a tricky, new field, but cases reported to us are not simply ‘every abusive tweet with an EDL hashtag’. One man on Twitter makes a point of stalking and sexually harassing a 15-year-old Muslim girl across a range of accounts over several weeks. An ex-soldier posts his specific intention, method and timing to burn down a mosque. Another posts a woman’s personal address and invites friends to ‘kick [her husband’s] ****ing head in’. If you believe the online world is a meaningless phantasm, then these might not mean much, but Tell Mama’s service users do find them relevant enough to report in.
While he discusses our organisation and our statistics, however, Black’s concern appears to be broader – with the fabrication of a sense of ‘Muslim/minority victimhood’, designed to grab protection, privilege, or funding. This is a common refrain, not just here on spiked – who’ve published 246 articles on ‘victimhood’ alone! – but also as a general response to complaints by activist Muslims, feminists, and other groups.
Black does get at something here. Hate crimes aren’t pogroms (and they certainly aren’t 1930s Germany, either); they aren’t massed attacks that try to target every member of a community, and any given member of the Muslim community is unlikely to be targeted in a given year. The Crime Survey of England and Wales found Muslims were most likely to be victimised by racial hate crime in a given year – but only at two per cent per person, per year. Stonewall found one in six LGBT people reported victimisation in the past three years – but those are still low odds.