Exclusive: London sees spike in Islamophobic incidents

Wreaths outside London’s Finsbury Park mosque in the wake of a June 2017 attack that left one man dead. A protester highlights the growing concern over hate crimes in the
city. (Getty Images)
Updated 08 January 2019
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Exclusive: London sees spike in Islamophobic incidents

  • Figures given exclusively to Arab News show a spike in incidents — and police warn the situation on the street is even worse

DUBAI: Dozens of Islamophobic attacks are being recorded in London every week as the city faces a rising wave of hate crime, figures released exclusively to Arab News show.

Police in the UK capital are stepping up measures to halt anti-Muslim attacks, and warn that a “vast number” of incidents is still going unreported.

A total of 1,003 incidents of Islamophobia were reported in London between January and September last year — about 26 a week — compared with 1,662 incidents in 2017 and 1,224 in 2016, the figures show.

In 2011, fewer than 320 incidents were reported.

“Reports of Islamophobic hate crime are continuing to rise in London,” Det. Sgt. Tony Forsyth, of the Metropolitan Police, told Arab News.

The figures were alarming, but failed to reflect the true gravity of the situation across the city since many victims neglected to report racially motivated crimes, he said. “We know that nationally a vast number of hate crimes are still not reported to police. We would urge victims or witness to a hate crime to come forward.”

Islamophobia accounts for roughly a 10th of all racist and religious hate crimes. More than 12,350 hate crimes were reported in London in the eight months to September this year, compared with 16,995 in 2017.

Forsyth said the rise in the number of incidents could be due partly to victims having more confidence in reporting crimes.

However, he said that a string of terror attacks in wider Europe and across the UK, including the suicide bombing that killed 22 people following a concert by pop star Ariana Grande in Manchester in May 2017, followed by the London Bridge knife rampage that left eight dead — were also to blame.

In 2005, in the aftermath of the July 7 London terror attacks, the number of Islamophobic incidents increased dramatically, with 44 incidents reported in the three months before the attacks compared with 365 in the following three months.

However, Forsyth said the police force and its 30,000 officers were taking extra measures to reduce the number of Islamophobic and racially motivated hate crime across the capital, and give victims the further confidence to report attacks in their neighborhoods and communities.

“Where more people are reporting hate crimes, it helps us identify where and when the crime is taking place and who the repeat offenders are,” he said. 

In London, the most commonly recorded hate crime in relation to “faith hate matters” is violence against a person, which can range from common assault to more serious attacks, said Forsyth.

Public order offenses and criminal damage, such as vandals daubing a mosque with graffiti, are also among racially motivated crimes reported to police.

“In terms of the language used by perpetrators, we have found that offenders can be influenced by media stories and material found online,” said Forsyth. “In a number of crimes reported, there is evidence of a clear lack of knowledge on the part of the perpetrator around faith matters and teachings.”

Police define an Islamophobic incident as one that “is perceived by the victim or any other person to be due to a person’s religion
(of Islam).” 

“Islamophobic incidents have a significant and wide-ranging impact on Muslim communities in London,” said Forsyth. “We work alongside our counter-terrorism colleagues to ensure that where there may be extremist or far-right perpetrators driven by hate-fueled ideologies, these individuals are identified quickly.”

Police have developed close links with third-party reporting groups, such as TruVision, Tell MAMA, Galop and CST, in order to gain a fuller understanding of hate crime and the extent of under-reporting.

A widely publicized example of the rise of Islamophobia was “Punish a Muslim Day,” when letters were sent encouraging recipients to carry out violent acts against Muslims in a malicious advert circulated in London and other UK cities.

Forsyth said police and the UK’s North-East Counter-Terrorism Unit investigated the incident and worked with local community and faith organizations across London to reassure communities in the wake of the adverts.

Given the rise in figures, Forsyth said police were ramping up efforts to stem the growing tide of Islamophobia across the UK capital.

The Met Online Hate Crime Hub, for example, is a cadre of officers who investigate online hate cases with key partners, including social media providers, victim support organizations, academic experts, and online and social media data analysts. 

The MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) project, also known as Tell MAMA, is an NGO that monitors anti-Muslim activity in the UK and acts as an independent third-party reporting service for those who have experienced Islamophobic abuse, discrimination or violence.

In its 2017 annual report, the organization said that it had received 1,201 verified accounts of anti-Muslim hatred, with 3,005 incidents reported in the past three years.

Professor Peter Hopkins, of Newcastle University, who contributed to the report, said it “clearly demonstrates the need for action to tackle anti-Muslim hatred in the UK.”

The report found that 70 percent of incidents last year took place offline and just over half of those involved cases of abusive behavior, with physical attacks accounting for nearly 20 percent.

“It is concerning that in 2017 there was a 56 percent increase in incidents involving discrimination and an 88 percent increase in vandalism,” Hopkins said.

Most incidents of anti-Muslim hatred took place in public areas and transport networks. However, in 2017, 12 percent of hate crimes took place in or near private property or households — a 26 percent increase year-on-year. The report found that most victims of anti-Muslim hatred were women and most of the perpetrators were male.

According to Tell Mama’s latest report, the most widely reported anti-Muslim hate incident was abusive behavior, followed by physical attacks. 

The group also saw a temporary spike in online reports in March and April 2018, following the “Punish A Muslim Day” campaign.

Iman Atta, director of Tell MAMA, said that Muslim women were most at risk of Islamophobic attacks. “Every year since 2012, most victims of street-based hate crimes have been women,” she said.

“Of equal concern are the rising levels of aggression being shown to victims at street level. This possibly indicates that something is changing for the worst.”

Shahid Malik, chair of the organization, said that the rise in anti-Muslim hate “affects lives, families, communities and, ultimately, the safety of our entire country.

“(Hate crime) divides communities and leads some toward extremist groups if they feel that they have no access to justice.”


Destiny’s child: Philippines’ Robredo refuses to rule out presidency just yet

Updated 22 September 2019
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Destiny’s child: Philippines’ Robredo refuses to rule out presidency just yet

  • In an exclusive interview with Arab News, the vice president talks about her frosty relationship with Duterte and the need to ensure OFW rights

MANILA: She is one of his most vocal critics, while he never misses an opportunity to mock her in public speeches across the Philippines.

But when it comes to upholding the sanctity of their office, both President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo ensure they bring a finely scripted civility to the table.

“I do not meet him often. I do not get invited to functions in the presidential palace, but I get invited to military events. I try as much as I can to attend ... and I see the president there. Our meetings have always been cordial. The president has been very civil when we see each other,” Robredo said in an exclusive interview with Arab News in Manila.

Robredo was elected separately to Duterte and was not his running mate. Amid rumors that she is the obvious choice to take on the mantle once Duterte finishes his term, Robredo says that she is not ready to rule out the idea just yet.

“I do not rule it out completely only because of what happened during the last two elections where I ruled out running for Congress and I ruled out running for the vice-presidency, and I had to eat my words after that,” she said, adding that as far as the Philippines is concerned, it’s all about “destiny.”

“Our history has shown that a lot of people have aspired for the presidency, but have not been successful. And we have had a lot of presidents who won the elections where they had not prepared as much as the other candidates. It is something that will be given to you if it is really meant for you. So there is no point in preparing for it at this point,” she said.

 

In recent years, Robredo and Duterte have had a frosty relationship over issues ranging from the government’s controversial war on drugs to the Philippines ties with China.

 

Recently, Robredo called out Duterte for his “shoot, but don’t kill” orders.

The president made his comments on Thursday during the inauguration of the Bataan government center and business hub dubbed “The Bunker,” urging Filipinos to “shoot but not kill” public officials who were demanding money in exchange for their services and vowing to defend any person who attacked a corrupt official.

The statement drew flak from several rights organizations and, most significantly, from the vice president herself.

“I do not agree with killings per se, whether they are against drug addicts or corrupt officials. We have laws; we have the judicial system, and we should make sure that we have a strong judicial system, safe from political intrusion and corruption,” she said.

Robredo also explained why she has been at loggerheads with Duterte over his stance on the South China Sea.

Last week, she described as “reckless” his suggestion that he would consider bypassing an arbitration ruling — in favor of the Philippines — over a territorial dispute with China in order to finalize an energy pact with Beijing.

“I have always been vocal about statements by the president, which may be interpreted in a manner that would be against the constitution. It has been the reason of some friction between us. There has been a lot of confusion as far as the seriousness of the president’s remarks is concerned. Whenever he makes controversial statements, some officials around him try to correct those statements,” she said, adding that her retorts have “been a source of criticism from many of the president’s supporters.”

Adding to their constant tug-of-war is the issue of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and sending manpower to countries in the Middle East.

The issue intensified with the murder of 29-year-old Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait last year. A Syrian woman, one of Demafelis’ employers, was found guilty of her murder this month.

Following the incident, the Philippines placed a ban on sending workers to Kuwait.

Duterte lifted the ban after Demafelis’ killer was tried, and there have been efforts to negotiate the terms and conditions of labor contracts by both the countries.

“The issues in Kuwait became a little too unbearable and we entered into a memorandum of agreement last year ... it was a reaction to many of the complaints that overseas Filipinos in Kuwait have. Some say that their passports are being confiscated by employers as soon as they reach Kuwait, and there are complaints about the working conditions, hours, etc,” Robredo said.

However, the agreement was a “short-term” initiative and a more formal bilateral agreement would have been “better in the sense that both countries will be made accountable,” she said.

“This is our desire not just in Kuwait, but also in many other parts of the Middle East, and in Saudi Arabia for example, where most of our Filipino workers are. There has been a UN convention on the protection of the rights of overseas workers — migrant workers — but, unfortunately, most of the countries hosting our migrant workers are not signatories to that convention yet,” she said.

Robredo described the agreement a “work in progress,” saying “it is something that we have been working on for several years.”

The Philippines signed two agreements with Saudi Arabia — the first in 2015, and another two years later —  on labor contracts and recruitment.

According to the Philippines Statistics Authority, the Kingdom continued to be the top destination for OFWs until May this year, with an estimated 2.3 million Filipinos working there.

Remittances from the period totalled P235.9 billion ($4.5 billion), up from P205.2 billion a year earlier.

“It is our desire that the countries hosting our migrant workers will be signatories to the UN convention because at the very least, the basic rights of our workers will be protected. It is something that not just our Foreign Affairs Department is working on, but our Labor Department as well,” she said, adding that this and a few other issues are subjects on which she and the president agree.

In June this year, when both Robredo and Duterte entered the final stretch of their six-year terms, the vice president said that she wanted a “better working relationship” with the president.

It is a sentiment that she voiced strongly while talking to Arab News as well.

“I think if our meetings are to be the gauge of our relationship, we are OK. It is just that there have been a lot of side remarks, issues and criticisms outside of our meetings that I think complicates the relationship,” she said.