Ever since the killing of Sir David Amess was labelled a terrorism incident, the British Muslim community have been braced for a rise in hate crimes.
In fact, since the MP was stabbed in his own Essex constituency on Friday, Islamophobic attacks have already taken place. British Somalis in particular have received death threats and community centres have been forced to close as residents had objects thrown at them.
But it’s not just following high profile terrorism cases that hate crimes are directed against Muslims.
Government research published just three days before the attack in Leigh-on-Sea shows that the biggest targets of religiously motivated hate crimes in England and Wales from 2020-2021 are Muslims – followed by Jewish groups.
Now, the Muslim Council of Britain is issuing guidelines to help British Muslims deal with potential influx of hate crimes against the group.
“Following the tragic murder of Sir David Amess MP, there has been real apprehension within British Muslim communities, and Somali communities in particular, at the prospect of an increase in hate crime offences,” a spokesperson for the Council told Huffpost UK.
“We have already been made aware of Somali community groups receiving death threats and online abuse. Former such attacks have resulted in a rise in hate crimes offences and/or Islamophobic discourse targeting Muslims, especially towards visibly Muslim women and mosques.”
The Council hopes its guidance will encourage more people to report hate crimes and help victims “not to remain silent”.
“We will also be releasing a dedicated guidance for mosques, detailing the steps mosque management should take to make their institutions and congregations more secure,” the spokesperson said.
“It is important that communities come together and support one another at this difficult time, in the true spirit of Sir David’s legacy.”
According to the Home Office, Islamophobia remains a trend year-on-year.
In the year ending March 2021, where the perceived religion of the victim was recorded, just under half (45%) of religious hate crime offences were targeted against Muslims (2,703 offences). The next most commonly targeted group were Jewish people, who were targeted in 22% of religious hate crimes (1,288 offences).
Sometimes these hate crimes are committed by strangers – but they can also come from people known to the victim.
One person who encountered Islamophobia at an institution level is Fatima*, a Muslim woman in her 20s who works at a university.
In the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, Fatima had tried to hold academic institutions to account for their honouring of problematic figures such as slave holders.
But amid her anti-racism work, some colleagues began a smear campaign.
She tells Huffpost UK: “They were accusing me of terrorism and extremism using my Facebook posts without context, on a page they started which had 600 followers. When I checked the group, I found posts about me calling me an extremist, that I’m a ‘danger’.
“As a result of the initial and subsequent emails from different members, I was under investigation by the university for ‘support[ing] extremism, jihad and martyrdom and glorifying terrorism’ and ‘contravening the Counter Terrorism and security Act 2015’. I was very shocked when I received the email.
“The university supported my anti-racism campaign. They knew these people were racist, Islamophobic and have been harassing other members of staff, yet I was the one under investigation. It was a very distressing period.”
The investigation did not result in any action, but despite her innocence being proven, nor was any action taken against the people who had bullied her.
“I felt like I lost my voice for a while,” she says. “It took me time to regain my confidence and find my political voice. I wanted to create positive change, and I felt like I was being punished for it.”
Fatima has since received fresh abuse, following a new wave of discussion around the case of Shamima Begum, who left the UK to join Isis in Syria.
“A few months after the investigation, I received more abuse online,” she says.
Now it’s someone from the same group, with an anonymous fake profile harassing me on Facebook calling me an extremist and to ‘f*** back off to Syria or something since you look like Shamima Begum and probably think like her too’. They went as far as harassing my fiancé saying: ‘how do you feel knowing your fiancé is a terrorist? That makes you one too.’”
“Hate crimes destroy a person’s sense of safety and self worth. They fuel Islamophobia and are fuelled by Islamophobia.”
– Raghad Altikriti, Muslim Association of Britain
So what needs to be done, particularly in the wake of terrorist acts that spark a rise in hate crimes?
With the first Jummah prayers on Friday (a congregation that sees mass crowds) approaching fast, Muslims will be on edge, particularly as the Finsbury Park and Christchurch, New Zealand attacks happened on this holy day.
The Muslim Association of Britain tells HuffPost UK that protection needs to come from a government level.
“Hate crimes destroy a person’s sense of safety and self worth. They fuel Islamophobia and are fuelled by Islamophobia,” says Raghad Altikriti, the association’s president.
“The most worrying thing about these [latest] statistics is that the real figure might be two, five or 10 times higher as there is so little reporting in the community. The government must urgently devise a plan for protecting Muslims and other victims of religiously motivated hate crimes.
“It is a particularly difficult time for Muslims. They are getting more hate at a time of national shock, uncertainty and mourning. Mosques should be provided security at a time when there are daily threats against them and individuals protected from hate crimes and their perpetrators.”
*Names have been changed.