London, England – Anti-Muslim hatred has become more pervasive and entrenched in the UK, compared with 20 years ago, according to a report by the think tank that catapulted the term “Islamophobia” in 1997.
Runnymede Trust’s latest survey, released on Tuesday, came two decades after the group first launched a groundbreaking report highlighting racism faced by British Muslims.
“Over the past two decades awareness of Islamophobia has increased, whether in terms of discrimination against Muslims, or in terms of public and policy discussion of it,” the report said.
“It is good that British Muslims increasingly challenge Islamophobia. However, to challenge and end Islamophobia and all forms of racism effectively, we all need to confront and condemn it where we see it, and commit to raising awareness in others of its wider effects.”
Muslims or ethnic minorities and the government should not be the only parties responsible in tackling Islamophobia. Employers, neighbours, teachers and fellow citizens should also raise awareness in cracking down on racism “wherever and however it appears”, the report said.
Published in 1997, Runnymede’s report “Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All” shed light on the considerable growth in anti-Muslim prejudice and the profound impact it had on the lives of British Muslims, identifying and catapulting the relatively unknown term and issue of “Islamophobia” into public consciousness.
How to define Islamophobia
Twenty years on, Britain is part of a post-9/11 and 7/7 world grappling with the rise of armed groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) and insecurity at home.
Whenever attackers are discovered to be of Muslim background, the entire community often faces collective punishment.
Tuesday’s report criticised the government’s ambiguous definition of the term Islamophobia, stating that while it still retained some purchase being widely used amongst politicians and the public, it was poorly understood, detracting from the multifaceted nature of contemporary anti-Islam sentiment as well as the lived experiences of individuals and communities.
The term “anti-Muslim racism” was proposed instead, as it was more encompassing of the tangible impact of Islamophobia.
Farah Elahi, a research and policy analyst at Runnymede Trust said Islamophobia had now manifested structurally in policy.
“There is a completely different policy focus on Muslim communities than there was in 1997. A big part of that is around counter-terrorism strategies, but also wider than that, looking at the integration strategy,” said Elahi.
“Both policy and the media have framed Muslims within a counter-terrorism deviant perspective, filtering into people’s understanding of the Muslim community and the way in which they’re perceived.”
Elahi added that the proliferation of Islamophobia had stretched beyond influencing policy, leading to a “Muslim penalty” which permeated into social, political, economic and cultural institutions.
“We have an understanding of how Islamophobia impacts hate crime, but when somebody applies for a job and they get an interview, those stereotypes can remain in an employee’s mind, even when they go to the doctors, when they go to school,” she said.
“One of the things we wanted to show in the report is that all these things are interlinked. Policy focus and media representation which frame Muslims in a particular way feeds particular stereotypes about Muslims. They all feed off each other and the effects manifest in larger labour market penalties, larger mental health impact, and penalties in the criminal justice system.”
These factors have restructured the social and political landscape for British Muslims, who are characterised by a range of stereotypes that demarcate them as the “other”, a characterisation which has seen anti-Muslim hate crime in the last year rocket.
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the only Muslim woman to be a cabinet member, said Islamophobia had become the “blind-spot of Britain”, and that it was now a more “respectable” form of bigotry.
The daily poisoning of the discourse around British Muslims has intensified, and shapes our collective understanding of the challenges we face
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, laywer and politician
In the foreword to the report, she writes: “In 2011, I said that Islamophobia had passed the dinner-table test. I was speaking about those who display their bigotry overtly, but also those who do so more subtly in the most respectable of settings – middle-class dinner tables. It is this more covert form of Islamophobia, couched in the intellectual arguments espoused by think tanks, commentators and even politicians that I have spent the last decade trying to reason with.”
Warsi said she was concerned by the institutionalisation on Islamophobia in some sections of the media over the last decade, calling for a parliamentary investigation into Islamophobia within the British press at the launch of the report.
“Of all the challenges to a cohesive Britain at ease with its Muslims, the hostile press environment is the most worrying. The daily poisoning of the discourse around British Muslims has intensified, and shapes our collective understanding of the challenges we face. It informs dialogue across the country, from parliament to the local pub.”
She also called for an investigation into her own Conservative party, citing an anti-Muslim campaign launched by Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith against the London Mayor Sadiq Khan during the mayoral election in 2016.