Britain needs "wake-up call' as Islamophobia grows, report claims

The Runnymede Trust says that in the last 20 years, anti-Muslim sentiment has become more established

LONDON. 27th September 2010. Baroness Sayeeda Warsi at her office in London. Stephen Lock for The National  FOR MAGAZINE.
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Twenty years after popularising the term Islamophobia in a landmark report on discrimination against Muslims in the United Kingdom, the Runnymede Trust, a race relations think-tank, has returned to the subject.

Its latest study, Islamophobia: Still a Challenge for Us All, says that over the two decades since the first report appeared, there is greater awareness of both discrimination against Muslims and in the reaction to it in the public and policy spheres.

In her introduction to the study, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a former Conservative cabinet minister who has used her position to fight against Islamophobia in debates on issues such as banning the burqa - which she opposed in parliament - pulls no punches in identifying an insidious form of "dinner party racism".

“In 2011, I said that Islamophobia had passed the dinner-table test. I was speaking about those who display their bigotry overtly, but also those who do so more subtly in the most respectable of settings – middle-class dinner tables,” she writes.

“It is this more covert form of Islamophobia, couched in intellectual arguments and espoused by think-tanks, commentators and even politicians, that I have spent the last decade trying to reason with.”

The trust sets out an updated definition of the term, too, calling it “any distinction, exclusion, or restriction towards, or preference against, Muslims (or those perceived to be Muslims) that has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life”.

Among the report's 10 main findings are: a recommendation that there should an inquiry into the government's counter-terrorism strategy; the introduction of a target to reduce child poverty, an issue which especially affects Muslim communities; and a call to police across the country to allocate proper resources to tackling hate crimes.

As Baroness Warsi says, in the past 12 months hate crimes in the UK have rise to their highest levels yet. In the month after terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, the number of reports rose by 500 per cent.

With Islamophobia often fanned by a hostile press, Baroness Warsi argues that the situation for Muslims in the UK is perilous and that government needs to take immediate action.

“This report should be a wake-up call for politicians, civil society and public services to address Islamophobia in all its forms, and its recommendations should be engaged with seriously,” she writes.