If there is a backlash against British Muslims, where is the evidence for it? Scaremongering about Islamophobia promotes a Muslim victim culture and allows some community leaders to inflame a sense of injury while suppressing internal debate. The new religious hatred law will make matters worseby Kenan Malik / February 20, 2005 / Leave a comment
Ten years ago, no one had heard of Islamophobia. Now everyone from Muslim leaders to anti-racist activists to government ministers wants to convince us that Britain is in the grip of a major backlash against Islam.
But does Islamophobia exist? The trouble with the idea is that it confuses hatred of, and discrimination against, Muslims on the one hand with criticism of Islam on the other. The charge of “Islamophobia” is all too often used not to highlight racism but to silence critics of Islam, or even Muslims fighting for reform of their communities.
In reality, discrimination against Muslims is not as great as is often claimed. When making a film on Islamophobia for Channel 4, I discovered a huge gap between perception and reality. One issue is police harassment of Muslims. Last summer, the home office published figures that revealed a 300 per cent increase in the number of Asians being stopped and searched under Britain’s anti-terror laws. Journalists, Muslim leaders and even the home office all shouted “Islamophobia.” “The whole Muslim community is being targeted by the police,” claimed Khalid Sofi of the Muslim Council of Britain.
The bald figure of a “300 per cent increase” suggested heavy-handed policing at the very least. But dig a little deeper and the figures show that just 3,000 Asians had been stopped and searched in the previous year under the Terrorism Act. Of these, probably half were Muslim. In other words, around 1,500 Muslims out of a population of at least 1.6m had been stopped under the terror laws—hardly a case of the police targeting every Muslim.
A total of 21,577 people from all backgrounds were stopped and searched under the terror laws. The majority—14,429—were white. Yet when I interviewed Iqbal Sacranie, general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, he insisted that “95-98 per cent of those stopped and searched under the anti-terror laws are Muslim.” The real figure is 14 per cent (for Asians). However many times I showed him the true statistics, he refused to budge. His figures appear to have been simply plucked out of the sky.
There is disproportion in the treatment of Asians: they make up about 5 per cent of the population, but account for 14 per cent of those stopped under the Terrorism Act. Could this be…