Unveiling the Truth of Islamophobic Sentiment in the UK

Photo via ArabNews

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Islamophobia is recognized in many forms, all with an underlying sentiment that means to target Muslims in a discriminatory way, conceptualizing them into a group that is somehow fundamentally different from the rest of society. While our world is becoming more globalized, Islamophobia is still on the rise and will continue to be fueled by the massacre happening in Gaza. The All Party Parliamentary Group’s definition of Islamophobia—which is pivotal to recognize in understanding how to combat and protect against irrational actions of discrimination and feelings of prejudice—asserts the practice as “rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”

The United Kingdom has seen a sevenfold increase in reports of Islamophobia since October 7th, according to Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks. These reports range from individual expressions of prejudice to systematic models of marginalization. Author John Esposito speaks to the lengths that the Israel-Hamas war has added to the growing current of discrimination around the world in an interview with Al-Jazeera, maintaining that the Palestinian people are continuously seen as miniscule and treated as “human animals,” a cruel label previously levied by members of the Israeli government. The “justification” for carrying out the accused genocide of the Palestinian people comes from a dangerous kind of rhetoric used to communicate with the rest of the world, one that has fueled the rise of Islamophobia everywhere. 

The beliefs of the extremist Israeli government have opened the floodgates such that Islamophobia can pour in from all over the world. A country’s response to such a violent construct paves the way for the people’s reaction to prejudiced attitudes and actions. Yet, the UK government has not adequately dealt with the increase in Islamophobic incidents, as they have tripled in frequency and continue to impact Muslims’ daily lives. It is estimated that for every three Islamophobic incidents, two are targeted toward Muslim women wearing hijabs.

Muslims already face a great deal of discrimination in the workplace and other sectors of life, regardless of the facade of inclusivity that the United Kingdom seems to encapsulate. In fact, 22% of British people reportedly carry negative feelings toward Muslims, and 43% are concerned about the construction of a mosque near them. Osama, a member of the Mental Health Foundation, shared some eye-opening facts about the anti-Muslim sentiment in the UK through the organization. He recalled the negative impact that Islamophobia has had on his mental health, stating, “In school someone said I had a bomb in my bag and threw it in the bin. Another time, they told people not to be my friend or go near me as I was a terrorist.” He advocates for the government to start acting, or at least try to act as the perfect model of inclusion they deem themselves to be.

In March of this year, the UK Communities Secretary Michael Gove released the government’s new working definition of extremism, labeling it as “the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance, that aims to negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.” This definition has stirred up a lot of controversy, with critics on all sides claiming that there is a clear violation of freedom of speech. Furthermore, the definition threatens to uproot the rights to peacefully protest and worship, which have always been two fundamental aspects of developed society. Rakib Ehsan, an independent counter-extremism analyst, says, “The definition suggests that extremism can be the ‘promotion’ of an ideology based on ‘intolerance’—this riskily allows for a great deal of subjectivity.” In the eyes of the oppressed, the new definition serves to exacerbate already existing tensions, disproportionately targeting Muslim communities.

A letter from 58 victims of terror attacks that were driven by extremism reached out to the government in a direct response against this definition, calling it “the height of irresponsibility.” They also ridiculed politicians for not being able to make a clear distinction between extremists and British Muslims who deplore the violence. 

The United Kingdom has an established body meant to consider and take forward proposals to tackle anti-Muslim hatred called the “Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group.” This organization is a prime example of the UK government’s shortcomings in supporting British Muslims during this time of heightened fear and tension. The group has not convened for four years, supposedly having gone on a “pause” amid the COVID-19 pandemic. At such a critical and devastating time, it is difficult for everyone to wrap their heads around why the group has been unable to start up again. British Muslims deserve to have their fundamental rights protected, including the rights to speech, religion, and a peaceful existence. 

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This article was edited by Bowen Yao.