By Jonathan Githens-Mazer and Robert Lambert
[Co-Directors, European Muslim Research Centre, University of Exeter]
Our aim for 2020: a reduction of anti-Muslim hate crimes in Europe
In the thirteen years since the Runnymede Trust published Islamophobia: A Challenge For Us All, the problem of anti-Muslim hate crimes in Europe has become worse, not better. Muslims are the victims of hate crimes every day, often being spat at, verbally abused and on occasions suffering serious physical violence as well as witnessing arson and graffiti attacks on their mosques and Islamic centres. Our aim is that by 2020, much of the ignorance and bigotry that motivates these attacks will have been dispelled and that the incidence of anti-Muslim hate crimes will have reduced significantly. This, we believe, is crucially important so that all Muslims come to feel that the European countries where they live are safe, secure and congenial homes.
What do we see as the key to achieving this objective? The answer is simple: public education. Just as public education initiatives to reduce the vilification and stigmatisation of other European minorities have achieved success in the past, so to we believe it will be possible during the next ten years to counter and correct the adverse impact of false, Islamophobic accounts of Muslims as threats to European safety, security and cohesion, that permeate both mainstream politics and extremist nationalist political agendas. As academics we believe we have an important role to play in this education process. Indeed, the main motivation for us launching the European Muslim Research Centre (EMRC) is to allow us to help educate politicians, media, police, public servants as well as the general public about the positive contributions of Muslims to the political, economic and cultural well-being of the European countries where they reside, and hence of Europe in general. This task has become especially important because a significant number of both mainstream and extremist nationalist politicians and commentators have convinced wide sections of the public that Muslims in Europe pose a threat to safety, security and social cohesion.
Why will it take ten years to achieve this objective? Public education takes time. Racism still exists in Europe but over the last ten years we have seen real reductions in discrimination against many ethnic minority communities in Europe. We would like future historians to record this new decade as the one where Islamophobia and the hate crime it gave rise to was effectively tackled by politicians and public servants in the same way they have tackled racism and anti-Semitism.
What specific contribution can the EMRC make? Our first contribution is to research the problem, analyse it and provide solutions for politicians. We are at the beginning of a ten-year project that investigates the adverse community impact of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crime across Europe. Our first report focuses on London and can be downloaded here: http://centres.exeter.ac.uk/emrc/ .
We reject, as fundamentally flawed, the position currently held by too many commentators: that European Muslims, Islam and strict adherence to Islam pose a threat to the safety, cohesion and well-being of communities and countries in Europe. The research undertaken and sponsored by the EMRC builds upon this value– seeking to highlight and constructively engage with communities, practitioners and policy makers where these contributions seem especially relevant and valuable to the development of 21st century Europe. This means that research conducted by the EMRC is ‘action’ oriented – seeking not only to make methodologically rigorous academic contributions to understandings of the roles that Muslim communities play in European society, but also engaging with practitioners, policy makers and the public to translate this work into practice. The EMRC research agenda is posited on the belief that overly negative or non-constructive analyses of the contribution of Muslim communities to European society, if left unchallenged, may create the conditions necessary by which these pernicious ideas become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
For these reasons and more, we launched our first research report in January 2010: The Community Impact of Anti-Muslim Hate Crime and Islamopobia: a London case study. Both the content and the methodology chosen for the report illustrate our central purpose: to produce high quality, long-term empirical research on the experience of Muslims in European towns and cities. We have chosen the topic of anti-Muslim bigotry for our first report because it has become a serious problem in many European towns and cities. In our assessment, Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crimes require the same kind of urgent and thorough attention that policy makers, public servants and researchers have afforded to the problems of racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia in recent years. Our starting point is London, but we aim to compare and contrast experience here with experience in key towns and cities across Europe in the months and years ahead in this new decade.
Our report is dedicated to Yasir Abdelmouttalib, a talented and committed PhD student, whose prospects of an exciting and productive academic career were cut short when he was brutally attacked and seriously injured by a gang of youths while on his way to Friday, jumma, prayer at the London Central Mosque in June 2004. During the assault, he was struck several times on the head with a roadsweeper’s broom. As a result, Yasir was in a coma for three months and his doctors feared he would not recover consciousness. Mercifully, he did, but as a result of brain injuries he has remained partially paralysed, partially blind, largely housebound, frequently bed-ridden, and reliant on constant nursing care provided by his family. Nevertheless, the commitment he showed before he was attacked still shines through the disabilities he has been forced to endure and he has made a small but significant recovery. Yasir’s resilience and bravery will serve as an inspiration for us over the next ten years.
Robert Lambert MBE is a research fellow at the Department of Politics and Co-Director of the European Muslim Research Centre, University of Exeter. He is also the retired head of the London Metropolitan Police’s Muslim Contact Unit (MCU), a post 9/11 initiative designed as a bottom-up grass roots project that ran counter to the global top-down military led ‘with us or against us’ approach. Robert’s PhD was entitled ‘The London Partnerships: an Insider’s Analysis of Legitimacy and Effectiveness,’ on partnerships between Muslim groups and the MCU.
Jonathan Githens-Mazer is a senior lecturer in politics and Co-Director of the European Muslim Research Centre at the University of Exeter. He is conducting research on political mobilization amongst British Muslims. Jonathan completed his PhD at the London School of Economics (LSE), which came to be published as ‘Myths and Memories of the Easter Rising: Cultural and Political Nationalism in Ireland.’
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