Fighting for a future free from hate crime for Muslim women
Since Tell MAMA was founded in 2011, it has become clear, through the numbers of people reporting their experiences of anti-Muslim abuse to us, that visible Muslim women are most affected.
We at Tell MAMA saw this after the large spikes in anti-Muslim hate reported to us after the brutal murder of Lee Rigby, after the Rotherham grooming scandals, post Charlie Hebdo, the Tunisian beach massacre in mid-2015 and after the Paris terrorist murders in late 2015. Yet, one of the largest spikes we have seen in the last 4 years was immediately after the Brexit vote and, once again, visible Muslim women were the ones targeted at a street level. More worryingly, we found that the perpetrator demographic base had changed in 2015 and included a much younger age demographic, with perpetrators clustered in the 13-18-year-old age bracket. This had dramatically changed from a 15-35 demographic age group between 2011-2014, yet white males were still predominantly involved.
Which brings us to a key point which must be stressed. Anti-Muslim hate at a street level overwhelmingly involves the victims being visible Muslim women and perpetrators predominantly being white males. There are gender, racial and anti-Muslim elements that all play a role in the targeting of Muslim women in public and should therefore also be seen as gender abuse, as well as racial and religious abuse. This is important to stress and is unique to anti-Muslim prejudice at a street level. Allied to this, we find that at an online level, Muslim women who are wearing Hijabs (or religious headscarves) in their avatars are targeted for misogynistic and vile anti-Muslim and sexual abuse, as though the perpetrator believes that humiliating them sexually will also impact on their sense of religiosity. So, online and offline, Muslim women are the main targets of anti-Muslim bigotry.
So how does the decision to exit the EU impact on the future of Muslim women and on anti-Muslim hate incidents and crimes? Well, the United Kingdom has one of the strongest legal frameworks to tackle hate incidents in Europe, much of which has been shaped since the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence. Yet, being part of a common European framework also allowed the UK to be part of a joint collective of work with social media companies on tackling hate speech online, and ensuring that EU directives on enforcing the removal of illegal speech were being met. It also needs to be stated that being in the EU and having a voice in its structures meant that common sense positions around the burkini debate were re-enforced by UK representatives on the grounds of human rights and civil liberties. This at a time when countries like France react in the face of extremism and provocation.
In other words, joint EU work on tackling hate speech is an area that the UK will not be involved in when Brexit takes place, and the UK’s voice will be a solitary one in calls against major global companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google. The question we can ask is which is a stronger position: being part of a family of nations speaking collectively on these issues, or being a solitary voice speaking against major global companies? Only time will tell, though whatever the future holds, one thing is for certain. Muslim women are the ones being affected by the rise of anti-Muslim hatred and we need to ensure that this trend is challenged. This is why campaigns like #FaceHerFuture are so important and need supporting.
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