On 12th February, the Insights Lecture series continued with a talk from Professor Peter Hopkins, entitled “Understanding Islamophobia”.
With the rise of the far-right and hate crimes against Islam’s followers, disdain or hatred of Muslims and “Muslimness” has become an increasingly contentious issue, with debate even surrounding the definition of the word ‘Islamophobia’, which Hopkins describes as “infuriating”. However, none of that deterred the excitable, packed crowd that took their seats and listened attentively as Hopkins – Professor of Social Geography and University Dean of Social Justice at Newcastle – began his address.
He starts by explaining “there’s an issue and there’s a problem”, moving from one PowerPoint slide to another full of examples of Islamophobic abuse. There is literature advertising “Punish a Muslim Day” – distributed last year in Lincoln, espousing “They have hurt you, they have made your loved ones suffer” – and following this, a picture of a Muslim school, vandalised and covered in graffiti reading “MOSLEM TERERISTS” (spelling that makes it all the harder to understand why white nationalists describe themselves as the superior race).
Hopkins goes on to relate less anecdotal evidence, showing that ‘verified offline anti-Muslim incidents’ across the UK grew by 47% from 2015-16, and by 31% from 2016-17, with online incidents remaining fairly constant, in the hundreds.
That Islamophobic abuse is on the rise is hard to doubt: in graph after graph, Hopkins highlights that especially egregious spikes were triggered by certain events, such as the EU referendum in 2016 (the week after which saw a 475% increase in ‘offline anti-Muslim incidents’) and the Manchester Arena attack in 2017 (the week after which saw a 700% spike). With the same rigor, he relates the lukewarm support that anti-Islamophobia efforts have garnered in political circles. The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), an informal cross-party club of Members of the House of Commons and Lords, on Islamophobia was so ineffective that TellMAMA, an organisation that records anti-Muslim incidents and provides support for its victims, had to help set up a new one that focused on hate crime.
There is then the damage of Islamophobia, which, counter-intuitively, is not limited to Muslims. Its tentacles also extend to those who ‘look’ Muslim, with Hopkins explaining that men with beards often receive abuse, along with East Asians and those wearing clothes which are “perceived as Islamic”. In conducting interviews in Hopkins’ native Scotland, he found that all Sikhs questioned had been mistaken for Muslims and subsequently received Islamophobic abuse. Hopkins goes to on to say that men who genuinely are Muslim are painted as “potential terrorists” and the women as “helpless victims of oppression”. Hopkins explains that Islamophobia typifies the religion as a whole as “inherently violent, tyrannical and patriarchal”.
Last week, the Courier reported on the vandalism of a local Islamic school, which shows that the rise in hate crimes fueled by events of recent years has not abated. Far right groups frequently hold rallies in Newcastle City centre, but so too do anti-racist groups. Talks like the one given by Hopkins are part of the move to educate people about the problems of racism in UK.
The causes of Islamophobia are boiled down into ‘Five Pillars’ – a reference to the religion’s central tenets of the same name – namely the state (whose counter-terrorism strategies – such as Prevent – receive no kind words from Hopkins), the far right, neo-Conservative movements, parts of the Zionist movement (which supports the occupation of Palestine) and a collection of what Hopkins calls “pro-war, New Atheist and New Secularist” groups, in that order. He explains that even if we deal with the far right, there are the other four pillars to reckon with. With the continued efforts of dedicated people like Hopkins, the counter movement to the spread of Islamophobia will hopefully continue to grow.