In the past couple of weeks, much has been made of the Metropolitan Police data showing that the number of Islamophobic hate crimes recorded increased by 70% in the past year. Amounting to 816 Islamophobic hate crimes in total, this was the second successive year that numbers had risen in London. In 2014, the 478 hate crimes recorded indicated an increase of more than 60% on the preceding year. A particularly concerning trend was that Islamophobic hate crimes increased in every London borough. While the most dramatic could be seen in Waltham Forest and Merton (showing increases of 270% and 263% respectively), notable increases were also evident in Islington (175%), Lewisham (160%), Hackney (137%) and Lambeth (135%).
In trying to explain these increases, the Metropolitan Police’s hate crime lead, Commander Mark Chishty suggested that it was down to the fact that greater numbers of people were increasingly aware of how to report hate crimes. Fiyaz Mughal (CEO of Tell MAMA) however was less convinced. Questioning the epiphany necessary to prompt significant numbers of people to report Islamophobic hate crime to the police, Mughal cited data collected by Tell MAMA to suggest that the increases were simply because “there were possibly more anti-Muslim hate incidents”.
To some extent, both explanations have some truth in them.
First off, equating an increase in the number of Islamophobic hate crimes recorded by the police with an increase in Islamophobia more widely has the very real potential to be both misleading and overly simplistic. As such, Chisty is right to suggest that other factors are likely to be at play in the sharp increase in numbers recorded. And one of these could be that approaches and procedures have improved. In 2012, the Government published a strategy for improving reporting and recording procedures for all forms of hate crime. Among others, this included increasing the number of ways through which hate crimes could be reported. These included supporting the creation of third party community recording services (such as Tell MAMA) to cover the monitored strands of race, religion, disability and sexual orientation as well as asylum and refugee status and alternative subcultures. Online reporting services were also developed. These include True Vision which offers an app that people are able to use on their smartphones and tablets. The Government’s strategy also identified the need to improve victim experience when reporting to the police. Given that over 50% of those who report hate crime to the police are now satisfied or fairly satisfied with how they were treated, it would seem that the Government’s strategy was having a positive impact.
Nonetheless, there is widespread acceptance that hate crime remains disproportionately under-reported. The actual extent of this under-reporting is however contested. So while the British Crime Survey for England and Wales estimates that police numbers for religiously motivated hate crime should be increased by around 25 per cent in order to get a more accurate picture, the University of Leicester’s Hate Crime Project suggests that police data represents little more than 23% of all religiously-motivated hate crime. However, both focus on religiously motivated hate crime rather than Islamophobia specifically. In this respect, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights suggests that approximately 72% of all Islamophobic hate crimes are unlikely to be reported. If so, applying it to the Metropolitan Police data would mean that the ‘real’ number of Islamophobic hate crimes was likely to exceed 2,900. Mughal was right to suggest that there were likely to have been (many?) more Islamophobic hate crimes in London.
Having researched Islamophobia for the past decade and a half, I am surprised by neither the Metropolitan Police’s data nor the suggestion that Islamophobic hate crime is under-reported. This is because the reality of Islamophobic hate crime is a worryingly recurrent feature in the world around us. In 2013, this was evident in the murder of Mohammed Saleem, a 75 year old man who was repeatedly stabbed on his way home from a mosque in Birmingham. In 2014, 31 year old female student Nahid Almanea was repeatedly stabbed while walking alone in Colchester. At the time, Essex Police expressed concerns about how she might have been murdered because she was wearing ‘Muslim attire’. This year, Muhsin Ahmed – an 81 year old pensioner – was murdered on his way to a mosque in Rotherham. Most recently, the realities of Islamophobic hate crime has been evident in both print and broadcast media. Among others, these have included coverage about how Qaiser Hamid was violently beaten by a gang in Stockport because he had a beard and the two men who were shot at with air rifles as they left a mosque in Nelson, Lancashire.
Irrespective of the numbers, Islamophobia is there to be seen in the contemporary British spaces. For this reason, I have to agree with Mughal’s observation that Islamophobia is “here to stay for some time”.
Chris Allen is a British sociologist at the Institute of Applied Social Studies at the University of Birmingham.