Barrister M. A. Muid Khan :
"We want communities to have the confidence to come forward and report hate crime when it happens. Hate Crime is not ignored - we will take positive action, we will investigate, we will support victims and we will work hard to ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice."
(Cressida Dick, The Metropolitan Police, Head of Counter Terrorism)
Despite the fact that the Muslims in Britain express a stronger sense of belonging in Britain than their compatriots, nevertheless the latest figures from Scotland Yard show reports of Islamaphobic hate crime have risen by almost two-thirds in the past 12 months, up from 844 to 1,335.
Recent Religious Hate crimes : In the first sickening attack that took place on 16th December 2016 in Hall Lane in Chingford Mount, north London, a young 27-year-old Muslim woman was knocked down by two white men. The attackers dragged her along the pavement by her hijab in a "sickening" attack. The attackers approached her from behind and tried to remove her headscarf. The victim was left lying on the floor for almost 20 minutes; before managing to dial 9999.This sickening attack shocked the whole nation in the UK.
On 13th December 2016, in the second incident, a knifeman stabbed a 40-year-old Muslim male passenger on a Train at Forest Gate Hill station at around 1.15 PM. The attacker then marched through the carriages shouting 'kill all Muslims'. The witnesses of the attack said that he was shouting stuff like 'Death to Muslims' and 'Go back to Syria'. Police arrested a 38-year-old on suspicion of GBH following the incident. This is a crude example of another hate crime
On 18th October 2016, in the third sickening attack, a Hate-crime attacker rip off a British-born Muslim woman's hijab as she walks along Oxford Street in Central London. The attacker told her repeatedly to remove the headscarf before trying to drag it off her. The attack was being treated as an Islamophobic crime.
If we compare the above three hate fuelled attacks, we would be able to find out the fact that these innocent victims were targeted by the attackers purely based on what they were wearing as Muslim man and women.
They were unprovoked and hate-filled attack in broad daylight in the middle of a busy street in the UK. Academic research is entirely certain that Islam and Muslims are often perceived in negative terms and this should not be dismissed as irrelevant if we want to be a society based on fairness and equality. In the light of three recent brutal attacks, in this article an attempt would be made to establish the meaning of Islamophobia and the existing UK law to punish the criminals.
Islamophobia : The term "Islamophobia" refers to fear, prejudice, hatred or dislike directed against Islam or Muslims or towards Islamic politics or culture. The Oxford Dictionary defines the term Islomophobia as, "…Intense dislike or fear of Islam, esp. as a political force; hostility or prejudice towards Muslims". Any criminal offence can be a religious hate crime, if the offender targeted the victim because of their prejudice or hostility based on religion. In the light of the above definition, all the incidents mentioned above are religious hate crime as the innocent victims were targeted by the attackers purely based on what they were wearing as Muslim man and women.
UK law against Religious hate crime: Under the existing UK law, racially and religiously motivated crimes are not tolerated. However, the recent attacks on British Muslim men and women show how they have become victims of Islamophobia and are suffering an "explosion" in faith-based hatred crime.
There are several examples provided in the legislations as racial or religious hate incidents including: (a) verbal and physical abuse, (b) bullying, (c) threatening behaviour, (d) online abuse & (e) damage to property.
There are two main types of racist and religious hate crime: (1) racially or religiously aggravated offences under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 & (2) any other offences for which the sentence can be increased under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 if they are classed as a hate crime
In both cases, when a criminal offence is classed as a racist or religious hate crime, the judge can impose a tougher sentence on the offender.
What should the victims do?: The victim of a religious hate crime must report it to the police about the incident of hate crime immediately. Victims can contact the police directly, or use an online reporting facility such as True Vision. When describing the offender it's useful to give general information such as (1) age, (2) height, (3) build, (4) gender, (5) ethnicity and (6) clothing. It is also useful to describe any other particular features of the offender such as: (1) hair colour (2) glasses (3) jewellery or piercing, (4) tattoos, (5) facial hair (6) a particular accent, (7) teeth, (8) scars & (9) birth marks. If a vehicle was involved, give general information such as: the make, model and colour, the victim may have noticed if it had stickers, sun shades, or car seats. If the incident involved damage to property, the victim should describe the damage or loss, as well as the costs involved if possible. The victim can also take photos of the damage to show the police.
Epilogue : Despite having strict legislations to punish the criminals of religious hate crime, Muslim communities living in the UK do not feel safe on the street any more. British Muslim males and females are not feeling secured and safe on the streets of the UK.
The government and Police should create a safer environment in which British Muslims can practise their own religion or wear religious attire freely and independently; and it will without doubt be a pro-Britain, pro-human rights song that they will sing.
If the attackers of the above religious hatred crimes are not brought before justice with exemplary punishment, it will only lead to the continuation of a harmful cycle. The result of this can be devastating. Muslim communities in the UK need to feel safe, confident and reassured that these injustices will be responded to.
Therefore, people from all walks of life should raise their voice against all sorts of religious hate crime. They must stand together with the Muslims to defendant their rights to practice their religion freely and independently. To tackle Islamophobia/Muslimophobia/anti-Muslim prejudice seriously; we should not confuse the religion of Islam with the political ideology of Islamist extremism. Education must be the cornerstone of any preventative policy if we are to make a better future for our children free from the mistakes their parents once made.
(The writer is a Barrister of the Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn. Legal Executive Lawyer of CILEX. )