• Alex Dingwall

Rise in Community Tension?

In the past few months the world has witnessed several high profile incidents which have resulted in increased discrimination against persons from Asian backgrounds. Such incidents have included the bombing of the Boston Marathon, the trial and conviction of an Oxford sex-grooming ring, and most recently the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby. With each of these events has come a media flurry that has overwhelmingly focused on the Muslim community, and through this one-sided coverage there has been a growing tension; leaving some people from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds, particularly those from the Muslim community, feeling vulnerable and under attack once more.

Anum Hussain, a young Muslim woman from Boston stated after the bombing of the Boston Marathon, “My heart was beating fast, just praying that this person didn’t turn out to be Muslim. I knew if they were, all hell was going to break loose.” Hussain’s statement implied that should the suspects of the bombing be confirmed as Muslim that it will result in renewed discrimination against Muslim community members. Sadly, her concern was appropriate. Various individuals claimed to have been actively discriminated against on the very day of the bombing solely based on their Asian background. In Boston however, alleged abuse and discrimination commenced well before any details of the bombing suspects’ identities had been revealed. These acts of abuse validated that some people still hold a preconceived notion of Islam and immediately associate acts of terrorism with persons from Asian backgrounds.

The UK has been experiencing a similar rise in anti-Muslim sentiments. The media closely followed the trial and verdict of the now infamous Oxford Child Sex Ring, in which seven of nine men of Asian background who are Muslim were convicted for various counts of child sex abuse. The trial, which revealed very disturbing information about the abuse that several young girls suffered at the hands of the perpetrators has appeared to cast a new shadow over the Muslim community; one in which men of Asian backgrounds who are perceived to be Muslim are regarded as sexual manipulators and predators of innocent young girls.

Most recently, the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich at the end of May has sparked a tidal wave of anti-Muslim sentiment throughout the UK. People took to social media immediately after the news of the murder broke and racist slurs and sentiments abounded. Rigby’s murder has since been utilised as an excuse for an increased mobilisation of the English Defence League (EDL) and subsequent far-right rallies throughout England. Muslim communities in affected areas have called for a strengthening of police protection. These calls were reinforced after a community centre housing the al-Rahma Islamic Centre and the Somali Bravanese Centre was destroyed in Muswell Hill in the North of London.

Closer to home, the increased movement of the EDL appears to have opened the floodgates in Scotland. The Scottish Defence League (SDL) has held protests regarding the death of Lee Rigby and there appears to be an air of growing tension as the SDL calls for a stop “to the creeping Islamisation” of Scotland. Reflective of this tension was the incident in which several parents in Edinburgh removed their children from a school trip to a local mosque citing “It’s the hate that is being preached in these mosques that I don’t want my child mixed up in” amongst other reasons for not wanting their child to partake in the educational fieldtrip. Anecdotally, CRER has heard of accounts from local people from minority ethnic backgrounds seeking name changes for their children; switching from a more traditional Asian name to a more Anglicized one. The name change is supposed to “make things a bit easier on them.” Other scenarios have included not growing facial hair when “things are not calm.”

Amidst all of this turmoil the Scottish Government has published its data on “Hate Crime in Scotland”. The data shows that racial crimes are the most commonly reported hate crime in Scotland. 68.4% of hate crime charges in 2012-13 were racist crimes. Interestingly, the data indicates that in the last six years there has been a decrease in race crime charges[1] reported, dropping from 4361 in 2007-08 to 4012 in 2012-13, constituting a 12% fall. This decrease, however, can largely be attributed to the decrease in charges reported relating to racially aggravated harassment. Charges relating to other offences of racial aggravation have been more or less consistent over the years.

The 12% decrease is not necessarily a fact to be celebrated as racial hate crime still goes largely unreported to the police by the BME community. Reasons for this can include people feeling that no action will be taken or fear of retaliation. For people with refugee or asylum seeker status, the fear of deportation if they report to the authorities can also be a reality. The data supports these claims as in 2012-13 alone there were 202 racial hate crime charges where no action was taken. This reveals a lot about responses to hate crimes since racial hate crime charges are the highest compared to other categories such as religion, disability, transgender and sexual orientation.

The report published by the Scottish Government on Religiously Aggravated Offending shows there has been an increase in charges where conduct was derogatory towards Islam with numbers ranging from 19 charges (2.2% of the total) in 2011-212 to 80 charges (11.6% of the total) in 2012-13. In the past month alone, Police Scotland have noted an increase in racially and religiously abusive statements on social media websites which has been attributed to the murder in Woolwich.

Given the abovementioned events and the release of data from the Scottish Government we are interested in knowing the communities experiences and thoughts. Have you been affected by recent incidents or noticed any differences over the past few months? We would like to have your feedback.

#Prejudice #HateCrime