Religious hate crime has risen by 40 per cent in the last year – and Muslims like me can help to stop it

We have a collective responsibility to recognise this equality of hate

Rabina Khan
Tuesday 16 October 2018 15:32
A Muslim woman wears the Kippah during a demonstration against antisemitism
A Muslim woman wears the Kippah during a demonstration against antisemitism

Last week a Labour councillor in Tower Hamlets, Mohammed Pappu, was forced to resign from the local Labour Party after admitting that he was responsible for a series of antisemitic remarks which appeared on his Facebook page. Although this is unacceptable behaviour by anyone using social media, and especially from an elected representative (he remains an independent councillor), the row over the remarks was exacerbated by the fact that, as a youth worker in the local area, Pappu was using his Facebook account as an information point for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and more specifically, for updates on events organised by the charity Soul, of which he is a trustee and former chairman.

Sadly, this instance is not unique. New figures published today by the Crime Survey for England and Wales show that religious hate crime rose by 40 per cent between 2016-17 and 2017-18. Could this partly be attributed to the conduct of those in positions of authority, who influence our young people, when just a few words can trigger a powerful reaction?

Pappu’s conduct demonstrates exactly why education in religious tolerance should be a fundamental requirement for everyone in a position of trust working with young adults. It is the only way to reduce racial bias and improve acceptance of all faiths, regardless of one’s own personal religious views.

It is also a stark reminder that hate crime is not only suffered by religious minorities but can be perpetrated by them as well.

Earlier this year, Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, said: “We Muslims need to talk about Muslim antisemitism.” In demonstrating how crucial it is to educate our young people, he went on to say that in the “mind of the perpetrators of such hate, the world is bipolar, with Muslims and Jews at opposite ends; and it is people like this who are winning the hearts and minds of many young, disaffected people in the UK”.

It is not always easy for young people exploring their personal identities to know what it is and isn’t acceptable to say about religion in modern Britain, and the language they can use to express themselves. Some expressions that have been used for decades − and with absolutely no racist meaning intended at all − are now no longer permitted.

In Tower Hamlets, Pappu shared an image which accused Britain of attacking Syria “to install a Rothschild bank”. How can it be that none of his friends – on Facebook or in real life – pointed out to him the offensive nature of this baseless allegation?

As a Muslim, I have often been told that soon all UK banks will be controlled by Sharia law. Remarks like these are just as offensive to me as the comments about a "Rothschild bank" are to a member of the Jewish faith. There is no difference in the hurt caused or the hatred spread.

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As Muslims, we have a collective responsibility to recognise this equality of hate. Young Muslims in particular should be educated in antisemitism and learn how to address it in their own community.

In 2013, when the English Defence League attempted to march through Tower Hamlets, my friend, Leon Silver, the president and senior warden of East London Central Synagogue, stood together with our local Muslim community to condemn Islamophobia. He spoke passionately, standing up for his Muslim brothers and sisters: we must do the same when Jewish people are attacked and feel persecuted.

It may not be possible to change the views of some older adults, but it is possible to educate children at the most impressionable time of their lives.

Rabina Khan is a Liberal Democrats councillor for Tower Hamlets, a writer and campaigner

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