21 September, 2014

The summer of intolerance. UK perspective

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Category: Country review, European Action Day, Islamophobia, Religious Intolerance
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relsUnfortunately, intolerance towards different religions has existed for as long as religion has itself. This summer, the UK added to this shameful history through marked increases in Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism. It appears that events in the Middle East caused an increase in hate incidents aimed at different religious communities here in the UK. What is more, events here in the UK have also escalated community tensions. Last month’s revelation that authorities in Rotherham in Yorkshire had suppressed information about a predominantly Pakistani sex gang has also caused an increase in Islamophobia.

The summer of 2014 will be remembered as a period of turmoil in the Middle East. The hostilities between Hamas in Gaza and the Israeli Defence Force in Israel in July/August gained international media and political attention. This already horrendous situation was made worse when it was escalated by hatred. Anti-Semitism increased in the UK during the conflict. Two of England’s largest police forces, Greater Manchester Police and The Metropolitan Police, reported a ‘‘significant increase’’ in Anti-Semitic hate crime. The Metropolitan Police said that hate crimes against the Jewish Community in London doubled when compared to the same period last year. Between April and August 2014 71 Anti-Semitic hate crimes were recorded compared with 37 in April to August 2013. Furthermore, in July 2014 240 calls were received by the Community Security Trust (CST), a trust that seeks to protect Jewish communities in the UK. This shocking hatred also made its way onto the Internet. For instance, a trend on Twitter was #HitlerWasRight along with images of the Holocaust and the Third Reich.

What hate speech often does is move attention away from the issues at hand; the very issues that if discussed openly and factually would help us progress away from intolerance. Hugh Lanning of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign told the BBC that ‘‘Anti-Semitism or any form of racism is not tolerated’’ that their ‘‘Opposition is to what the Israeli government with the support of the US and UK government is doing’’. Lanning went on to say that these intolerant views are a ‘distraction’ from wider debates. Regardless of political views, debates on areas such as Israel and Palestine must be kept rational and away from hate.

The other major geo-political event in the Middle East this summer that has influenced hate speech in the UK is the rise in the fundamentalist movement the Islamic State (IS). IS and their goal of an extremist Islamic State within the Middle East has been reported on almost every day over the last couple of months. Yet, once again this summer, already tragic events have been hijacked by hate. Social networks have been filled with Islamophobic content ever since the news of IS reached UK shores. What has fuelled those who pedal hate is the murder of American Journalist James Foley by a British Jihadist and the number (which is predicted to be in the hundreds) of British Jihadist who have chosen to fight for IS. These revelations have increased Islamophobia. You only have to input ‘Muslim’ or ‘Jihadist’ or ‘Terrorist’ into a social media search bar to see the gross misunderstandings that people have about Islam. What is more, despite the fact that IS are also murdering Muslims and is in no way representative of the 1.6 billion Muslims across the globe, it has not stopped hate groups from taking action. The English Defence League frequently groups those who follow the teachings of Islam with the IS, as seen in their article on their website ‘‘Time to wake up’’. Even the news towards the end of August that British Muslim leaders had issued a Fatwa against British Jihadists and would-be Jihadists hasn’t stopped the likes of the English Defence League and Britain First regularly tweeting misinformation on Islam, Terrorism and Jihadists.

Another event that has driven Islamophobia in the UK are the events surrounding Rotherham in Yorkshire. Last month it was revealed that local leaders had suppressed information regarding a sex gang in Yorkshire. It came to fruition through a report published by Professor Alexis Jay that unveiled that since 1997 a criminal gang had exploited over 1400 vulnerable children. It was also discovered that the majority of the gang were men of Pakistani origin and that the inquiry team noted that authorities did not act on the information out of a fear of being labeled as a racist. This news led to many blaming the Muslim Community and ‘‘Political Correctness’’ for these awful crimes. Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks), an organization that reports Islamophobic incidents, recorded 53 hate incidents in the county directly related to the Rotherham abuse scandal. Yasmin Ishaq, who runs Islam Rotherham, told the Guardian newspaper that on the first day of school “A few mothers were being quite vocal, saying things like ‘these Pakis’’. Islam Rotherham has received abusive phone calls, emails and posts since the report was published. Ishaq continues to say that “People have written things like: ‘All Muslim girls should be raped,” Worryingly, she explains that “In the Muslim community the overall feeling is that things are going to get worse before they get better.” Furthermore, far-right groups such as the EDL and Britain First have been vocal in the town since the scandal emerged. The EDL supporters camped outside Rotherham’s police station, council office and library.

What has been proved difficult is countering the hate speech surrounding Rotherham since those who spout the hatred will often refer to the fact that it was those who cried racism failed the over 1400 children. We must ensure that society is made aware that the authorities failed the children, not respect and equality. Nazir Afzal brought perspective to the situation in providing the wider statistics across the country that indicate that 80%-90% of child sex offenders are male and white British. Afzal told the Guardian earlier this month that ‘‘It is not the abusers’ race that defines them. It is their attitude to women that defines them.” And that ‘‘Criminality begins and ends with the criminal, and not collectively with the law-abiding communities.” It is also apparent that there is a severe misunderstanding in what Islam stands for. For example, many individuals wrongly believe that Islam supports Peadophilia. It is disturbing that it will not take long to find a tweet linking Islam and Peadophilia after twitter searching ‘‘Islam’’. It is gross misunderstandings like this that has allowed prejudice to grow and prosper.
Those at the heart of the establishment are also seeing the trend of increased intolerance as a result of current affairs. Last week (18th of September), an anonymous Home Office senior advisor told the BBC that there is a worrying increase in far-right extremism that has been overshadowed by government efforts to quell Jihadists. Additionally, an anonymous ex-Neo-Nazi told the BBC that the current climate within the UK and internationally makes ‘ideal recruitment ground’ for farright extremism. The Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), which studies right-wing extremism, has called on the government to find new ways to engage with such groups. Similar engagement schemes have proved successful in Germany and Scandinavian nations according to the ISD. I am aware I have painted a rather bleak picture of community relations within the UK. For the record, I feel that by and large the UK is among the most accepting societies in the world. Similarly, not all content of social media has been negative.

There are of course many cases where hate is being countered and discouraged online. I feel that in highlighting the issues above we can work to make society more tolerant towards different religions. So, what is it we can do? The ISD has stated the government must engage hate groups but what can the public do? We cannot solve the issues in the Middle East; this is a daunting task even for the most experienced diplomats. We cannot rectify what has already happened in Rotherham. What is within our power however is to ensure that civil society is informed about the different religions within the UK and to counter hate speech through informed discussion. In keeping society informed about religious diversity in the UK, this will help stop the momentum of hate speech. We will be able to stop events across the globe and in the UK being skewed and misinterpreted by those who wish to pedal hate. Below this article I have provided some links regarding the major religions in the UK according to the 2011 national census. I have also provided a link regarding those without religion. Additionally, Datashine have produced a gap of the UK that illustrates the different beliefs in the UK according to the UK 2011 census, which is an interesting way to portray diversity in the UK. Please take time to read and share the contents of the websites below.

Office of National Statistics: Different  religions in the UK  http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/census/2011-­‐census/key-­‐statistics-­‐for-­‐local-­‐

Christianity Today  http://www.christiantoday.co.uk/

The Muslim Council of Great Britain http://www.mcb.org.uk/

Hindu Council UK  http://www.hinducounciluk.org/

Sikh Council UK  http://sikhcounciluk.org/

Buddhist society http://www.thebuddhistsociety.org/

Jewish  Virtual Library UK http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/England.html

Atheism UK http://www.atheismuk.com/

Datashine map illustrating the different religions in the UK  http://datashine.org.uk/#zoom=9&lat=51.49164&lon=-­‐

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