Islamophobia is on the rise in Scotland. That is troubling enough. But what’s even more concerning is that many of those whom I would define as Islamophobic feel very good about it. They see themselves not as racist or xenophobic, but as defenders of democracy and human rights against the adherents of a religion they believe is incompatible with both.
Over the past few years the advance of Islamophobia can be easily observed. Anti-Muslim newspapers such as Daily Star have expanded and become more aggressive, cherry-picking reports of crimes by perpetrators from Islamic countries in order to confirm their prejudices; Facebook pages with a clear anti-Muslim agenda – such as that of Anti-Islam Alliance – had hundreds of thousands of shares, including claims that Muslim immigrants are “dumbing down” United Kingdom; parties such as UKIP, which hysterically warn of an “Islamic totalitarian idealogy”, have been founded.
To be sure, Islamophobia is no British speciality. In fact, Islamophobia is on the rise across western Europe, not least in the UK. In France, for example, similar developments started years earlier. France is home to around 5 million Muslims, who disproportionately live in poverty and unemployment, often in ghettoised banlieues. This incident should rightfully horrify, but it will now undoubtedly fuel an already ascendant far-right.
Of course, Islamophobia can’t be laughed away and ours is just small way of dealing with it. But what’s clear is that traditional racist arguments are now more likely to come in the form of abuse on the basis of religion. The argument is often that Jews share the same values as Christians, and Chinese immigrants are good at integrating, but for Muslims neither is true; plus, they want to take over. Which is why their religion is in fact an ideology; which is why it is OK to be against it; which in turn makes you a freedom fighter.
The consequences? More anti-Muslim hatred, more disillusionment among already marginalised young Muslims, more potential recruits for extremist groups. But that’s not all. There is fear of losing out economically, for which Muslims are scapegoated; there’s the challenge of living in a society changing rapidly in the light of globalisation; there’s anger about the increasing visibility of immigrants.
Rise of Islamophobia also linked to corporate media’s bias. During the Scottish referendum campaign, we have already seen the corporate media playing along to the Westminster parties, to build and promote a fear among the Scottish population based on lies. Most media outlets fail to mention facts such as Muslims in the UK give more to charity than other religious groups.
Yet monitoring groups and campaigners point out that hate crime is often under-reported, with Muslims in particular reluctant to contact the police for fear they won’t be taken seriously. Some campaigners point out confidence in the police may also be low in the wake of counter-terrorism strategies such as Prevent. And they say harrasment that is not violent, such as verbal abuse or spitting, can still spread fear and make communities feel under siege.
There is an alternative way, of course. In Norway, the country’s left had opened the country’s doors to Muslims and diluted its Christian heritage. But Norway’s response was not retribution, revenge, clampdowns. “Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity,” declared the prime minister Jens Stoltenberg. Norway’s enlightened response could be a model elsewhere in Europe too. It would be the last thing the attackers would want us to do. That, in itself, should give us all pause to think.