A celebrated writer has argued that more needs to be done to tackle faith-related hate crime.
Speaking at Derby’s West Indian centre, Professor Richard Reddie suggested that collaboration between different faith organisations could be the key to resisting the rise of abuse targeted at religious communities in the digital age.
The Black Muslims in Britain author recalled being the subject of racist abuse when growing up in Bradford, fuelling his ambition to fight hate crime as an academic.
“You’d always have this scenario where you’d be walking down the street, a van would slow down and somebody would shout the N-word or spit at you before speeding off,” he said. “That’s a hate crime, but at the time, you just took it for granted.”
In 2020/2021, 85,268 racially aggravated offences were recorded in the UK – up 12% from the previous year – and 38% of the people who reported these incidents were of an Asian background, compared to the previous 16%. Reddie suggested that people such as Donald Trump referring to Covid-19 as “the China virus” could have been a catalyst for this increase.
Reddie then looked back to his time working in community engagement for the Mayor of London to shed light on the lack of action towards Islamophobia during Boris Johnson’s tenure as Mayor.
“In the 1980s, Islam was regarded as a religion of peace,” Reddie said. “The Daily Mail ran a week of stories saying how Muslims have the values that British people had lost – they were family-orientated, respectful of elders and believed in marriage… They were really positive stories.”
Reddie argued that attitudes towards Muslims began to change following the controversy around the novel The Satanic Verses, when the Supreme Leader of Iran called for the death of author Salman Rushdie for content perceived as blasphemous.
“Social media has become a place where hate crime thrives”Professor Richard Reddie
“All of a sudden, Islam was seen not as a religion of peace, but potentially of violence. And when you had 9/11 and then 7/7 in London, things completely changed,” he said. “In the right-wing press, virtually all the stories about Muslims are now negative.”
Reddie continued by saying that when Ken Livingstone was Mayor, initiatives were introduced to address Islamophobia – whereas his successor, Boris Johnson, denied it even existed.
“He banned the word,” Reddie said. “As civil servants, we couldn’t use the term Islamophobia, and a lot of work with Muslim communities was just stopped overnight.”
He also added that since then, the rise of social media has become another contributing factor towards rising hate crime.
“If I were to deliver this talk over social media, the racism that I’d receive is amazing,” Reddie said. “There are many virtues to social media, but some people think they can get away with saying anything and it has become a place where hate crime thrives.”
Reddie rounded off the talk by encouraging faith organisations to work together to stand up for justice and to report hate crimes to the authorities.
“Collectively, we can approach the police and say something needs to be done,” he said. “We need to adopt a zero tolerance attitude towards hate crime where it’s taken as seriously as other criminal activities are.”