UK Islamophobia - Myth or reality?

Lancashire Evening Post 23 November 2012

Discrimination is a daily reality for many Muslims - but the vast majority of abuse goes unreported. Dr Chris Allen, lecturer at the at the School of Social Policy at University of Birmingham, says a lack of a clear definition of what constitutes the discrimination that Muslims face, known as Islamophobia, contributing to the problem.

What many people fail to recognise, he says, is the difference between disagreeing with Muslim beliefs and promoting hatred.

"Islamophobia is not about disagreeing, criticising or condemning,” he explains. "But as a rule of thumb, when that disagreement, criticism or condemnation – including promoting stereotypes and mistruths – is used to intentionally promote, encourage or justify discrimination, hatred, bigotry or even violence, it is likely that this will be motivated and driven by Islamophobia or manifested and expressed as Islamophobia.”

One of the main problems, Dr Allen says, is while other forms of discrimination have precedents in law, there is still no legal definition of what Islamophobia is.

As a result, data about the levels and prevalence of Islamophobia is lacking.

Dr Allen, who is giving a lecture on the problem at the Salvation Army on Thursday as part of Guild Interfaith Week, said research shows a third of all Muslims experience discrimination on a regular basis, with many experiencing abuse on average once every eight weeks.

"Most worryingly 79% of all Islamophobic incidents are not reported to police or other institutions,” Dr Allen says. "A new government funded scheme - TELL MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) - is now beginning to fill this lack of knowledge by collecting and collating data about anti-Muslim attacks and incidents.”

In Lancashire the building of new mosques has led to lots of debate. But is that considered to be Islamophobic? His lecture comes on the back of the uproar caused by celebrity chef Clarissa Dickson Wright who said she felt like an "pariah and an outcast” when visiting a mainly Asian part of Leicester.

Dr Allen says: "The building and development of mosques all over the country are currently attracting the attention of many people. Whilst it is not Islamophobic to oppose a mosque, it comes back to the reasons and motivations for doing so that determine whether or not opposition is Islamophobic.

"My research has recently been exploring the opposition to the proposed Dudley mosque in the West Midlands. For some, their opposition is based on sound and valid reasons, for example if the buildings fail to meet planning regulations or the land has been set aside for regeneration activities. Where it becomes problematic is when opposition begins to state that ‘Muslims don’t belong here’ or that they are ‘taking over our towns and cities’. You have to try and be objective and balanced about these things which is extremely difficult because nothing is black and white.”

So how does the problem vary across the country? Dr Allen explains: "The landscape is extremely changeable with different drivers causing problems in different areas.

"In more densely populated areas, they can become targeted because it is seen that they are ‘taking over’ or ‘Islamifying’ areas. National and international incidents can also prompt an increase in attacks. After the convictions of the grooming gang in Rochdale, TELL MAMA saw a sharp increase in attacks in and around the Manchester area.”

In Lancashire, he says there was an increase in attacks when Blackburn MP Jack Straw said veils worn by some Muslim women were a barrier to integration. (continue reading...)