By: Mark Townsend
More than half of Islamophobic attacks in Britain are committed against women, who are typically targeted because they are wearing clothing associated with Islam, new data reveals.
The figures of anti-Muslim attacks, compiled in the nine months following the murder of soldier Lee Rigby in May 2013, come days after Saudi Arabian student Nahid Almanea was stabbed to death in Essex, with detectives believing that she may have been attacked because she was wearing traditional Islamic clothing.
In a study of calls to the Tell Mama hotline, which records Islamophobic crimes, academics at Teesside University found there were on average two incidents every day over the period.
Victims reported a total of 734 incidents to the hotline between the start of May last year and 28 February 2014, broken down into 599 incidents of online abuse and 135 offline attacks – an increase of almost 20% on the same period the previous year.
One aspect of the figures indicates an apparent lack of trust in police to deal with Islamophobic incidents, with one in six victims choosing not to report the incident to authorities.
The Teesside report, published by the first research unit in Britain dedicated to the study of the far right and its opposition, says more effort is required to foster greater trust between the Muslim community and authorities.
“Supporting victims and encouraging them to come forward to report a hate crime remains the highest priority,” the report says. “Alongside addressing under-reporting, authorities should be encouraged to disaggregate hate crimes by strand, and to take seriously the increased incidence of anti-Muslim hate crime.”
The data also revealed that – unlike most incidents of hate crime, which overwhelmingly involve male perpetrators and victims – 54% of the victims of Islamophobia were female.
One theory is that Muslim women are more “visibly” Muslim because of traditional clothing such as the hijab or abaya. The figures show that four in five victims attacked in the street or elsewhere were females wearing visibly Muslim clothing; almost the same proportion of alleged perpetrators offline were young, white men.
Incidents reported to Tell Mama leapt after the murder of Rigby, with nearly four times more reports during the week following the attack than the previous week – although the number of incidents reduced in the months thereafter.
However, the report says that Islamophobia and its negative impact on community relations remains an ongoing concern. “Throughout spring 2014, there were heightened levels of both online and offline incidents reported to Tell Mama. At this time, many people in Britain felt frightened and victimised,” it says.
Overall, the data are in contrast to the trend for hate crime, with government figures showing the number of reported attacks falling.
Other findings from the report confirm that a significant number of incidents reported to the hotline involved a link to far-right groups such as the English Defence League. A far-right connection was traceable in almost half of reported Islamophobic online abuse.
An online link to the far right was readily detected through recognisable slogans such as the EDL’s “NFSE” (No fucking surrender ever), hashtags linked to far-right groups, avatars or recurring far-right phrases including neo-Nazi phrases.
In a previous report by the Teesside University centre, it was claimed that a small number of far-right activists were responsible for a significant proportion of online hate incidents targeting British Muslims.