In Europe, Britain leads the way in religious tolerance. But that could easily change – and prejudice seems to grow by the day
“All Muslims out of the UK!” This was the welcome note that greeted my brother, sticky-taped to the front door of his new home in south-east London. It is just one among many incidents that take place across the country daily, some of which are reported to the Tell Mama (Measuring Anti Muslim Attacks) project. In June it received notice of 56 instances of anti-Muslim prejudice, both online and offline – a noticeable spike that was caused, they believe, by the Rotherham abuse scandal.
Tell Mama has recorded more than 2,040 reports of religious hatred since its inception in 2012, including arson attacks on mosques and violence towards Muslim women. They increased in the months following themurder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich. After the brutal killing of British aid worker David Haines, Tell Mama received 39 hate incidents in three days. Fiyaz Mughal, the founder of Faith Matters, which runs Tell Mama, said: “When something takes place in the UK or involves a British national, we see spikes.”
But there appears to be a low-level, simmering current of anti-Muslim hatred regardless. A good friend of mine who wears a headscarf told me that she has been on the receiving end for years. She has been spat at, had bottles thrown at her, and was threatened by a skinhead on the tube in London who rolled up a magazine and, holding it under her chin, said: “You might want to reconsider your beliefs.” No one intervened.
More recently, a young married couple – the wife wears a headscarf, the husband has a short beard – told me they were waiting at a train platform in south-east London when two white men in suits in their early 40s walked by and one muttered under his breath, “terrorists”. On another occasion they were walking down a high street in Kent holding hands when a young white man spouted: “You’re disgusting, go back to your own country.”
Horrific crimes carried out in the name of religion are as much anathema to the average Muslim Briton as they are to any Briton. An additional burden for us, however, is the warped assumption that British Muslims are somehow to blame for the actions of murderers. The notion that Muslims should feel some form of collective guilt and be collectively punished is a reprehensible one, but it seems to be evident into an increasing number of people’s attitudes.
A Muslim friend said her colleague’s Facebook status asked why Muslims hadn’t posted their outrage about the beheading of Haines. Tweets have floated around asking the same question, demanding that Muslims speak out against these atrocities. But expecting Muslims to constantly be engaged in a rhetoric of apology is absurd. It is irrational and entirely unhelpful, and in itself constitutes a form of everyday Islamophobia.
I support initiatives like the UK Imams against Isis video, which featured Muslim leaders, both Sunni and Shia, coming together in condemnation, but it makes no sense to expect Muslims to apologise for crimes they played no part in. Muslims are as disgusted by them as any civilised person is.
Hazel Blears today called for “more integration” by British Muslims. Things are getting worse, but integration is not the issue here. It is bigotry and prejudice and a language exclusive to the far right. I still firmly believe Britain is leading the way in Europe in its religious tolerance and inclusivity. But this could easily change. Now is not the time to get complacent about a prejudice that seems to get stronger by the day.
Remona Aly is a freelance journalist and editor with a focus on British Muslim issues. She is also campaigns director for Exploring Islam Foundation, which specialises in media campaigns and resources.
This article first appeared on The Guardian website