As noted previously in this unit, the number of Islamophobic incidents recorded in the UK in recent years has been historically high. These incidents have taken the form of verbal and physical attacks, vandalism of property, abusive messages on social media platforms, and Islamophobic content in the mainstream media, in both news media and the entertainment industry. This prevalence of Islamophobia should be of concern to us all.
Firstly, it has an enormous psychological and emotional toll on Muslims, making them feel less safe, impacting their sense of belonging and leading to long-term trauma.
As Imran Awan, the academic and Islamophobia expert, and Irene Zempi, the academic and criminologist, explain,
[T]here are distinct emotional effects associated with [being a victim of Islamophobic hate crime], including feelings of fear, insecurity, anxiety, vulnerability, isolation and depression. Given that they are targeted because of the ‘visibility’ of their Muslim identity … victims are unable to take comfort in the belief that what happened to them was simply random and ‘could have happened to anyone’. Rather, they are forced to view this abuse as an attack on their Muslim identity, and this has severe implications for their levels of confidence and self-esteem as well as their feelings of belonging and safety in the UK.
As a result, some individuals might suffer from depression, eating disorders, sleep pattern disturbances including insomnia and nightmares, flashbacks, and memory lapses. The continual threat of abuse can be emotionally draining for victims, who not only relive past incidents but also feel the need to be constantly on the alert.
Secondly, Islamophobia creates societal division, impacting integration and community cohesion. As Awan and Zempi explain, ‘the threat of being attacked, [means] many actual and potential victims choose to retreat to their “own” communities and as a result become reclusive’.
Not only does this impact the opportunities available to Muslims, it also, they continue, ‘isolates and excludes Muslims, thereby creating fear, resentment and mistrust of the “Muslim Other”’.
This separation furthers social division as it can mean Muslims and non-Muslims lose opportunities to share experiences and increase their understanding of each other.
Finally, Islamophobia is deeply concerning as it is dangerous for democracy and makes society less safe for everyone. If Islamophobia is allowed to flourish unchallenged, it puts Muslim lives at risk, paves the way for oppression of other marginalised communities, and threatens the fabric of society.
As Holocaust survivor Marian Turski notes,
Democracy hinges on the rights of minorities being protected.
When minorities are attacked and denied rights, there is a tear in the social contract, which opens the doors for the rights of everyone to be called into question, for everybody’s rights to be at risk.
Moreover, research by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) has shown that those who hold Islamophobic views are also more likely to support authoritarianism: not only do they support state policies that take rights away from Muslims, they are also, as Dalia Mogahed, the Research Director at the ISPU highlights, ‘more likely to approve of curtailing freedom of the press and suspension of checks and balances in the wake of a terrorist attack’.
Mogahed goes on to explain that those holding Islamophobic views are also more likely to support ‘deliberate attacks on and killing of civilians by a military, considered a war crime, and also by a small group or an individual, usually called “terrorism”’.
Islamophobia thus makes the world less safe for everyone and puts democracy at risk. The propensity for Islamophobia to lead to far-right terrorism is evident in the 2022 terrorist attack on the immigrant centre in Dover – the terrorist posted Islamophobic content online before he carried out the attack.
The risks are real. Far-right terrorism in the UK is on the rise,
while in the US far-right terror poses a bigger threat than Islamic extremism.
Islamophobia must be challenged first and foremost because it harms Muslims and entire Muslim communities, leaving Muslims to live in fear and at risk of attack. Moreover, as highlighted above, when Islamophobia is left unchecked, there are additional consequences for everyone in society: it impacts community cohesion, and puts democracy and lives at risk.