‘spiked is wrong about Islamophobia’
The founder of Tell Mama responds to Tim Black's recent article.
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.
But pure numbers aren’t the point of (most) hate crimes – for many perpetrators, it’s about psychology. Sudden, shocking violence in one’s daily life is destabilising, guilt- and self-doubt-inducing, and traumatic, especially if it’s because of who you are. Studying victims of gay-bashing, Gregory Herek found that LGBT people suffered much longer from hate crimes than ‘ordinary’ ones, and this trauma from fellow community members rippled out through peer groups. Chris Allen, studying anti-Muslim violence against women, found a similar psychological impact on victims who were attacked, had windows smashed, or were run down (‘unpleasant stuff’, notes Black). Maybe these are part of a global culture of victimhood – or maybe they don’t need any cajoling to feel hurt and scared.
In other cases, it’s about symbolism. Rather than simply hurting people, a burning mosque or street murder is about sending a message – ‘your kind aren’t welcome here’, ‘this could be you’, ‘this is my manifesto’. Sure, a given person is unlikely to be attacked, but the meaning of an attack on a mosque, or on a woman dressed a certain way in public, is clear to everyone. Is it fair to suggest its targeted communities choose to ‘experience their lives through the prism of being picked on’? Are critics made of sterner stuff than the rest of us? I’d suggest being scared when your friend, relative or place of worship is attacked – and wanting to do something about it – is reasonable.
Black concludes positively, challenging us to ‘develop new forms of social solidarity, to focus on what we have in common’. I agree. But to act in solidarity and compassion, we shouldn’t critique others for not being ‘hard’ enough when they or their friends suffer violence. Instead, we should look at the obstacles that stop us from assessing what we have in common – whether it’s Islamophobia, violence against women or constant online abuse – and work to dismantle them. To do that, we need to recognise these problems for what they are.
Fiyaz Mughal is director of Faith Matters, the interfaith and anti-extremist organisation which runs Tell Mama.