30th January 2005
Kenan Malik (�Islamophobia Myth,� Issue 107) surreptitiously isolates manifestations of Islamophobia to violent and overt hostility towards Muslims on our streets by racists and the police.
However, Malik�s conception of Islamophobia is at odds with virtually every source cited in his article. Ever since the term Islamophobia entered mainstream discourse following the Runnymede Trust�s report on Islamophobia in 1997, it is understood to entail a fear of and prejudice against Muslims. Such prejudice may manifest itself in ways other than physical attacks by racists or disproportionate arrests by the police, and the semantic edifice erected by Malik makes a mockery of victims of prejudice by pretending they have not been discriminated against.
In January 2005, the Crown Prosecution Service released figures which showed that of the 44 cases of religiously-aggravated crime between April 2003 and March 2004, in exactly 50% of the cases the religion or perceived religion of the victim was Islam. This is only the second year that the CPS has been collating these figures, but with the Muslim population making up only 3% of the British total, the statistics are already quite telling.
Malik also fails to recognise how and why the likes of the British National Party � for fear of being prosecuted under our incitement to race hate laws - have switched their strategy from targeting racial groupings to explicitly targeting British Muslims as a faith group. Malik�s Prospect piece and his C4 documentary �Are Muslims Hated?� strangely omitted any mention of the northern riots of 2001 and the key role the BNP�s Muslim-baiting played in them. Gallingly, he then criticises the government�s proposals to close the loophole in our legislation and prohibit incitement to religious hatred. Does Mr Malik � who describes himself as an anti-racist - think that the BNP should be allowed to continue their incitement because it is merely anti-Muslim?
Malik has further not read the explanatory notes of the draft law to outlaw incitement of religious hatred, which states that �what must be stirred up is hatred of a group of persons defined by their religious beliefs and not hatred of the religion itself � criticism or expressions of antipathy or dislike of particular religions or their adherents will not be caught by the offence.� Malik may therefore continue to be hateful of religion as long as he does not incite hatred of followers of religion, which is hardly a meritorious act worth protection.
Islamophobia is not confined to the far right. It is the progressive realisation that racism may manifest itself in ways other than physical attacks that racial discrimination in the field of employment and in the delivery of services was outlawed in the Race Relations Act 1976. Similarly, Islamophobia may be manifested by denying an individual employment based on their belief in Islam, and such conduct was only recently outlawed in the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003. There is no such �myth� in this regard, as demonstrated for example by the survey conducted by BBC Radio 5 Live in July 2004. The BBC sent fictitious applications for jobs using applicants with the same qualifications and work experience, but different names. The investigation found that a quarter of the applications by the candidates with traditionally English sounding names were successful in securing an interview, compared with 13% for the applicants with Black African names and only 9% of applicants with Muslim names.
Some writers in the mainstream media have been no less culpable in fomenting this prejudice against Muslims and contributing to their emergence as the �folk devils� of popular and media imagination. In July 2004, the Sunday Telegraph published a series of four breathtakingly anti-Muslim pieces by Will Cummins in which he compared Muslims with dogs and argued why �Muslims are a threat to our way of life� (Sunday Telegraph, 25 July 2004). It is simply unthinkable that an editor of a national newspaper would still be in his job if he had allowed a similar barrage of hate to be directed at Afro-Caribbean�s or Jews.
It can appear, as Kenan Malik contends that 'Islamophobia is a myth', but only if you deliberately choose to look the other way.
The Muslim Council of Britain
London E15 1NT