‘Let’s blow her face off’ – the experiences of Muslims who suffer hostility
by Imran Awan (2015)
Hate crime awareness week, is important because it aims to help shed light and create awareness of the issues surrounding intolerance, bigotry, prejudice and discrimination. Crucially, this week is not just about raising awareness but also helping us better understand what hate crime is? Who the victims are? Encouraging people to report it and also promoting long-term partnerships between different agencies who are having to tackle the issue. This week, is also important because, alongside my colleague Dr Irene Zempi (Nottingham Trent University) and Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) we have presented evidence in the Houses of Parliament about our report entitled: “We Fear For Our Lives”: Online and Offline Anti-Muslim Hostility in Britain.
Indeed, as Tell MAMA recently noted they had found 548 verified incidents (of 729) reported to them concerning anti-Muslim abuse. Almost, a fifth of service users reported repeat offline incidents of anti-Muslim hate with Muslim women suffering more offline incidents than men. Typically, the victim was wearing traditional Islamic clothing at the time of the incident and the perpetrators were overwhelmingly white male. The overall aim of our report was to examine the impacts of online and offline anti-Muslim hate crime and give a voice to the Muslim men and women whose stories about hate crime are often overlooked or never heard. In doing so, the authors conducted interviews with Muslim men and women who have been victims of both online and offline anti-Muslim hate. Since Tell MAMA’s inception in 2012, it has found a high proportion of online and offline incidents of anti-Muslim hate reported to it.
Muslims, particularly those with a ‘visible’ Muslim identity, are more vulnerable to anti-Muslim hostility, intimidation, abuse and threats of violence, both online and offline. We argue that for repeat victims, it is difficult to isolate the online threats from the intimidation, violence and abuse that they suffer offline. Rather, there is a continuity of anti-Muslim hostility in both the virtual and the physical world, especially in the globalised world. Our report found that participants had a range of anti-Muslim hate experiences from online abuse where they were threatened with violence to offline abuse where they suffered verbal and physical abuse. In the online world, participants’ experiences were shaped by hostile comments, racist posts, fake id profiles, messages and images used to harass and incite violence against them. For example, in one case a female participant had an image of her redistributed on Twitter with the caption ‘You Burqa wearing slut’ and in another case the perpetrators found the address of the victim and threatened her with violence. In addition, some of the offline examples included incidents where a young girl was punched, kicked and had her headscarf pulled off. She was then threatened with someone wanting ‘to blow her face off’.
Similarly, we found disturbing accounts of how Muslim men had also suffered anti-
Muslim hostility in the workplace although in most cases they were too scared to report it to the police in case people perceived them as being ‘weak’. For example, one interviewee described how his work colleagues had locked the room where he was praying and in another occasion where he had his beard pulled. He told us that ‘I actually went in the car and cried.’ The overall experience of anti-Muslim hostility had a significant impact on him and his family and in his words it had left his daughter ‘suicidal.’ We argue that both offline and online anti-Muslim hate crimes and incidents have significant impacts for the victim whose level of self-esteem and confidence are impacted, as well as them living in a constant state of fear and anxiety. As one of the interviewee told us ‘I cried a lot. I’m not going to harm anyone but people hate me because I wear a headscarf! Why!’ Another participant added ‘I don’t feel confident.’ Unarguably, such feelings can lead to a sense of ‘othering’ and risk damaging community cohesion as victims feel alienated, isolated and that they ‘don’t belong’.
Participants reported suffering anti-Muslim hostility on a daily basis, ranging from online threats and messages of hate to harassment, intimidation and violence in the physical world. They highlighted that the visibility of their Muslim identity was key to being identified as Muslims, and thus triggering online and/or offline anti-Muslim attacks. Female participants felt more vulnerable to anti-Muslim hate crime in comparison to male participants, both online and offline. As might be expected, experiences of online and offline anti-Muslim hate crime increased feelings of vulnerability, fear and insecurity amongst participants. They also suffered a range of psychological and emotional responses such as low confidence, depression and anxiety. Throughout interviews, participants highlighted the relationship between online and offline anti-Muslim hate crime, and described living in fear because of the possibility of online threats materialising in the ‘real world’. The constant threat of anti-Muslim hate crime had forced participants to adopt a siege mentality and keep a low profile in order to reduce the potential for future attacks. Many participants reported taking steps to become less ‘visible’ for example by taking the headscarf off for women and shaving their beards for men.
The Report – “We Fear for our Lives”: Offline and Online Experiences of Anti-Muslim Hostility can be downloaded from here.
The Research was a joint collaboration between Mr Imran Awan (Birmingham City University), Dr Irene Zempi (Nottingham Trent University) and Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks).
A Video of Young Muslims who have experienced online and offline anti-Muslim hostility has been released alongside the report. It can be viewed here.