Tell Mama’s annual report: 2017 saw record number of anti-Muslim attacks and incidents

The Islamophobia monitoring group Tell Mama has reported that 2017 saw a record number of anti-Muslim attacks and incidents of abuse reported. The group’s annual report identified 1,201 verified reports submitted in 2017, representing a rise of 26% from 2016[1].

Roughly a third of incidents occurred online, representing a 16.3% increase from 2016. However, over two-thirds of the attacks and abuse occurred offline or on street level, representing a 31% rise from 2016. It is the trend towards physical incidents that the Tell Mama report focuses on, saying, “There has been a marked shift towards more serious offline incidents such as physical attacks, threatening behaviour and abuse more generally”. Vandalism replaced threatening behaviour as the third most common category of anti-Muslim hate, with 2017 seeing a 56% increase compared with 2016[2].

Women were also found to be disproportionately targeted in incidents of anti-Muslim hate crime, mostly by male teenage perpetrators. Women made up six out of ten victims, with men making up eight out of ten perpetrators. The majority of perpetrators were aged between thirteen and eighteen. Director of Tell Mama, Iman Atta, said, “We are extremely concerned at a younger generation of mainly boys and men who are becoming more aggressive in their targeting of Muslims”. Women’s increased vulnerability to anti-Muslim hate is likely in part to be due to their visibility as Muslims, for example, if they are wearing Islamic clothing[3].

The surge in incidents has been attributed to the growth of the far right by experts, as well as to a large number of “trigger” incidents in 2017 which prompted a backlash of anti-Muslim hate, including the terrorist attacks in London and Manchester. However, the report also criticised the police, saying that victims of anti-Muslim incidents often were let down by the poor recording of crimes and felt sometimes like they had been dismissed. Another recent report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services supports this criticism, as it found significant failings in the way hate crimes were dealt with. Associate professor of criminology at Birmingham City University, Imran Awan, said that the police’s response to hate crime is often inhibited by their uncertainty and inconsistency in what is regarded as hate crime[4].

On the findings of the report, Iman Atta said, “The world feels a more unstable space and in all of this, the voices of victims and outcomes for them in terms of access to justice have not been great”[5].

Equalities campaigner, Akeela Ahmed, also attributed the rise to recent political events, saying, “These findings reflect the fact that since 2016, a growing minority of people with far-right sympathies have felt emboldened by Brexit and the 2016 US elections”. Sociologist Tahir Abbassaid echoed this, saying the rise was an indication of the rise of populism and nationalism, which Muslims are often the target of. He also warned of the dangerous impact of this phenomenon on cases of radicalisation; “Islamophobia is used as a hook but also far-right groups and radical Islamists feed off each other and they are all feeding off of Islamophobia”[6].

Tell Mama’s report additionally criticised inactivity from Twitter in removing anti-Muslim hate material, saying its lack of effort demonstrated a “wanton lack of desire to understand hatred on its platform”. The report said that often tweets had to be reported several times before any action was taken by the company, and that the company was ineffectual when it came to preventing those who had previously been banned from the platform from opening up new accounts. Twitter said that it has made more than thirty policy, product, and operational changes between 2017 and 2018 to ensure safety to its users, and added that accounts found to be a violation of its rules faced a range of enforcement actions[7].

Akeela Ahmed commented that, while it was certainly the case that some of the increase was down to more people reporting incidents of hate crime, it is important to remember that most people, and especially Muslim women, are still reluctant to report Islamophobia, meaning the actual number of cases is likely to be significantly higher[8].

This was echoed by Shelina Janmohamed, the author of Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World, who added, “It has definitely felt like the temperature and volume of explicit hatred against Muslims has escalated … I think 2017 was a particularly difficult year for everyone in the country and Muslim women, as [the] report shows, really bore brunt of that”[9].

The police watchdog has warned that Britain’s scheduled exit from the EU in 2019 had a “real possibility” of triggering another surge in hate crime. Tell Mama’s report is the latest in a series of warnings in the UK this year about the rise of Islamophobic hate crime and the right-wing[10].

Chair of Tell Mama, Shahid Malik, said the government had to make a serious commitment to tackling Islamophobia: “With the backdrop of the Brexit vote and the spike in racist incidents that seems to be emerging, the government should be under no illusions, things could quickly become extremely unpleasant for Britain’s minorities. So today more than ever, we need our government, our political parties and of course our media to act with the utmost responsibility and help steer us towards a post-Brexit Britain where xenophobia and hatred are utterly rejected. Failure to demonstrate the necessary maturity in leadership at this delicate moment in our history could have some significant and far-reaching consequences for us all”[11].

Speaking at the launch of the report, the Communities Secretary, James Brokenshire MP, said that its identified rise in Islamophobia, and recent publicised Islamophobic attacks, such as the Punish A Muslim Day letter campaign, are “utterly unacceptable and … will not be tolerated”. He added, “the message is clear: if you target any communities in our society in this way, you will be made to answer for it … We need to do more to ensure that British Muslims feel safe to go about their lives as much as anyone else”. He pointed to the refresh of the hate crime action plan which will be released later this year, which he says both focuses on supporting victims and communities and developing a better understanding of hate crime[12]. His promises that the government will better understand hate crime come after the Home Office refused to accept the need for a definitive definition of Islamophobia in light of the Punish a Muslim Day incident, saying that the phenomenon was already “clearly recognised” and effectively monitored.

Read Tell Mama’s report here.

[1] Marsh, 2018.

[2] Marsh, 2018.

[3] Marsh, 2018.

[4] Marsh, 2018.

[5] Marsh, 2018.

[6] Marsh, 2018.

[7] Marsh, 2018.

[8] Marsh, 2018.

[9] Marsh, 2018.

[10] Marsh, 2018.

[11] Jeory, 2018.

[12] HM Government, 2018.

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HM Government. (2018) ‘Speech: Tell MAMA annual report launch’. [online] 23 July. [Accessed 4 August 2018].

Jeory, T. (2018) ‘UK entering ‘unchartered territory’ of Islamophobia after Brexit vote’. [online] 27 June. [Accessed 4 August 2018].

Marsh, S. (2018) ‘Record number of anti-Muslim attacks reported in UK last year’. [online] 20 July. [Accessed 4 August 2018].