By Grahame Anderson

A recent report published in conjunction with both Newcastle and Northumbria Universities and campaigners tellMAMA has highlighted the extent of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred in North East England.

The research conducted with those from a Muslim background revealed more than two thirds of survey respondents across the three police force areas of Cleveland, Durham and Northumbria said Islamophobia is either a regular or everyday occurrence.

Opportunity For Change

Every involved however, has seen how people treat each other during the coronavirus pandemic, offers the perfect opportunity to address the problems some Muslims face, in what is normally regarded as a very welcoming part of the world.

Experiences Of Hatred

Muslims said they generally experienced Islamophobia as verbal abuse, harassment, intimidation or online abuse. This included comments based on incorrect assumptions about someone’s immigration status or literacy ability. This also includes damage to buildings and property owned by Muslims.

Most anti-Muslim hatred isn’t reported as more than half of the people who have experienced abuse in some form felt nothing would be done. Sadly, many felt there was no-one willing to defend them in public.

What’s more, some individuals have made attempts to adjust their personal clothing so they didn’t stand out as much. Some however, still received abuse over their race and gender.

One of the reports author’s Professor Peter Hopkins, Professor of Social Geography at Newcastle University, has said: “The way that people have come together during the lockdown is proof that communities can put their differences to one side and focus on the greater good. But this shouldn’t just be for the duration of the current emergency.

COVID Crisis

Iman Abou Atta OBE, Director of Tell MAMA or Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks, explained: “We have seen a real sense of solidarity during the COVID crisis. It shows the real spirit of our country and this needs to be maintained in the struggle also against hatred, prejudice and intolerance. We must never be complacent in this struggle against hate as we have shown that we are not complacent in the struggle against COVID.”

Time For Change

The Safer Cities Action Team of Tyne and Wear Citizens have long been campaigning on issues of racism and Islamophobia. Taj Khan, a member of the action team said: “I try to understand and ask myself, why is there so much hate and resentment toward me when I have done nothing to any of those people who decide to verbally and physically torment and abuse me?

I am a woman, a brown woman, a Muslim woman, I suffer misogyny, racial and Islamophobic hate on daily basis. I hate going out to shop because the perpetrators get more sympathy while I as a victim get threatened with security or the police and get forced off the premises.

This whole experience leaves me feeling upset, hurt and humiliated but worst of all, I am tormented and think to myself ‘my appearance repulse others so much to a point they feel raged for the way I look, dress and the faith I represent’.

The police need witnesses to prove you have been a victim of hate crime and the offender walks away with a smirk. I feel I need to invest in a body camera or never leave my home alone. Something has to change.”

Her concerns were backed up by Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle Central who added: “The launch of this report reminds us, yet again, that racism is a serious everyday issue for residents of the North East. Muslim women are at the sharp end of this, being abused frequently on the street, on public transport and when driving. We must stand in solidarity with those struggling against racism and Islamophobia. We need real change, now”.

North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll said: “Muslim communities throughout our region are continuing to be blighted by anti-Muslim racism, and it’s getting worse. Islamophobia is an everyday reality for Muslim men and women, on public transport, in shops, in the workplace. It has a devastating effect on people’s life chances and opportunities.”

Clear Police Message

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Kim McGuinness, said: “Anti-Muslim prejudice should absolutely not be tolerated here in Northumbria, or anywhere for that matter. However, it’s clear this pandemic has brought society together. Like a virus, hate can spread fast, but so can the positives. We need this kind, consideration of others, that has been so evident here in the North East, to stay and wipe out the spread of ignorance and bigotry. Let’s build on the positives and tackle the causes that wedge divisions and see this time as one of opportunity and hope.”

Recommendations

The reports recommendations call for improved education about Muslims and Islam, including more community projects to build bridges between groups. The authors talk about more funding for interfaith work working alongside Public campaigns against Islamophobia. This would all help improve the understanding about the Muslim community, challenging assumptions and misunderstandings.