Islamophobia is more than hate crime


The hallmark of a free society is the freedom to criticise ideas, but the marker of an unjust one is a society that discriminates against people based on their background. And so it is with Islamophobia, or anti-Muslim racism.

Yesterday’s launch of a major report on Islamophobia by the race equality thinktank Runnymede Trust brought into sharp focus the devastating impact of social and economic exclusion of Muslims in Britain, which is often worse than for other people of colour. And it was bad enough for them to begin with.

African and Caribbean Muslims, both men and women, are more likely to be unemployed than African and Caribbean Christians. Proportionally there are more Muslim Indians signing on than Hindu Indians.

We already know the overall impact of racial discrimination in the jobs market – a government-commissioned report earlier this year by Baroness Ruby McGregor Smith found that the cost of racism at work adds up to 1.3% of GDP than Britain plc is missing out on. So the fact that Muslims are bearing an additional penalty, over and above the ‘ethnic penalty’ already suffered by black and Asian citizens, should concern us all.

Here’s another fact from the new #Islamophobia20 report – Muslims are over twice as likely to be in poverty than the next highest religious group, Sikhs. The only explanation for this is that Muslims face disadvantages and barriers due to systemic and institutional racism, plus an additional barrier purely based on their faith.

That is why Runnymede are calling for a new definition of Islamophobia, one that widens the debate from one that is about faith to one that says clearly: anyone who discriminates against someone because they are a Muslim can no longer hide behind attempts to legitimise their actions on grounds of the democratic right to criticise a religion. Instead, the discriminators are perpetrating anti-Muslim racism, which is but a variant of anti-black or anti-Asian racism.

Yes, we need to tackle Islamophobic hate crime. Too many Muslims live in fear of attack, which increases isolation and works against the values of integration that some authorities claim to want. But we must not stop there. The social disparities suffered by Muslims – in employment, criminal justice and mental health – must be addressed alongside action to tackle racial disparities.

There is a long way to go to make Britain a more racially-equal society, as the government’s recent race disparity audit showed. Government must factor in anti-Muslim disparities too, and where necessary put in place specific strategies.

Ascribing ‘collective guilt’ to a peace-loving faith community on the basis of the actions of a small number of extremists is unacceptable. Muslims are often the first to condemn acts of terrorism, as Baroness Sayeeda Warsi pointed out at yesterday’s launch. The notion of collective guilt of an entire community is the result of a daily drip-drip of fear and suspicion of Muslims in sections of the media. The recent news story about the adoption of a white Christian girl by Muslim parents, which was proven to be riddled with inaccuracies, is a case in point.

An anti-Muslim narrative has built up over recent years, and this has led to anti-Muslim prejudice and discrimination that excludes Muslims in everyday life is equally unforgiveable. It is also a determent to the whole of society. Any community that is unfairly treated diminishes us all. The scourge of Islamophobia is a challenge to us all. We all unite must play our part in combating it, just as communities united to fight racism in the 1960s and 1970s.

Lester Holloway