Today marks the publication of a report by Teesside University’s Centre for Fascist, Anti-fascist, and Post-Fascist studies, entitled Tell MAMA Reporting 2013/14: Anti-Muslim Overview, Analysis and ‘Cumulative Extremism’. Based on Tell MAMA’s data, and the expertise of the authors, Dr Matthew Feldman and Mark Littler, this report examines Tell MAMA’s reporting processes, and the state of anti-Muslim hate crime in England and Wales. We welcome their findings, grim though they often are; the report underlines a real and tangible problem that anti-Muslim hate crime represents, and some of the factors influencing its recent rise.

The heart of Feldman and Littler’s report is a detailed analysis of anti-Muslim hate crime that looks at 734 cases between 1 May 2013 and 28 February 2014. 599 of these were online, and 135 were street-based. In many cases, they find close parallels between anti-Muslim hate crime and other forms of anti-minority violence. Only 17% of victims reported in to the police, for example, the same figure as with anti-learning-disability and anti-Roma/Sinti/traveller attacks, a problem that severely complicates the broader assessment of hate crime, and underlines the importance of confidence-building mechanisms and third-party reporting services. Perpetrators are largely male, although are often younger in cases of anti-Muslim hate crime.

Yet Feldman and Littler identify a number of disturbing trends distinctive to anti-Muslim hate crime, which have long been of great concern to us. Muslim women represent the majority of victims (54% of offline victims, compared to only 25.5% for hate crime victims in general). Even after a much more stringent verification process that Tell MAMA has adopted, 45% of online cases were found to have a clear verbal/slogan-based link to online far right movement.  Hate crime may have decreased in general across the UK, but anti-Muslim hate crime – alongside antisemitic and homophobic hate crime – has noticeably increased. Cases of extreme violence were also notably higher than in other cases, particularly after the murder of Lee Rigby on 22 May 2013, as were attacks on mosques and places of worship.

In noting these issues, this report builds on the findings of previous Tell MAMA-based reports on Islamophobia and the far right, and anti-Muslim attacks and Muslim women by Teesside and Birmingham universities, but the detailed approach taken by this report reinforces our understanding of this as a serious issue, and provides a robust basis for further discussion. Where figures on anti-Muslim hate crime coincide with those faced by other communities, we can understand them as part of a larger social problem issue and phenomenon; where they are distinctive for Muslims in Britain, they represent areas for particular concern, and help direct and shape our future endeavours in this field.

One of the most significant events in the field of anti-Muslim hate crime over the past few years was doubtless the ruthless murder of Lee Rigby, and the ensuing anti-Muslim backlash. While different agencies reported different rates of increase – Tell MAMA found a 373% increase over the course of a week relative to the week before – one London Borough Commander suggested that there had been an eightfold increase in parts of London, and Home Office Statistics suggesting a low estimate of a 63% increase in the West Midlands – it is clear that anti-Muslim hate crime spiked after this. Feldman and Littler productively apply ideas of cumulative extremism to this field, looking at the ways in which anti-Muslim attacks – both online and offline – may have been spurred by violent acts which were seen as the fault of ‘all Muslims’. They also note the way that the impact of attacks may have been particularly drawn out, having effects and impacts for months after the original event – a worrying trend that initial Metropolitan police data obtained by Tell MAMA appears to confirm. Here and elsewhere, these issues have been discussed at length. Yet this report makes a valuable, authoritative, academic contribution to the field, and also contains useful recommendations.

The report not only covers anti-Muslim hate crime, but is also about Tell MAMA itself. It analyses the Tell MAMA reporting process, making it more transparent to external scrutiny, and identifying areas that have been either improved or need further focus. Tell MAMA is now two and a half years old, and continues to grow, develop, and refine its recording processes – like any organisation, it has encountered obstacles and problems along this road. The report identifies the problems that any self-reporting facility is likely to face, and identifies some of the ways in which these problems have been addressed. More exacting standards of evidence for validating cases; a regular/randomised case-review system; and a standardisation of definitions have all been noted by the report, which reflects part of our ongoing improvements to the system. To retain confidence beyond an initial ‘honeymoon’ period, and for its data and work to have an impact, Tell MAMA will have to continue developing its rigour and effectiveness. Teesside’s review, from an examination of this (and the broader issues introduced by changing visibility and increasing confidence) finds that Tell MAMA’s data ‘can be approached with both methodological caution and statistical confidence’. Consequently, we are confident that we can continue to develop on this front, and make Tell MAMA an organisation worthy of the UK’s Muslim community in the same way that the CST stands for Britain’s Jews.

Finally, it is extremely useful to have Tell MAMA’s work contextualised in a broader academic and policy making framework. Tell MAMA has ongoing lobbying efforts and work in this field, but the expertise and background of the authors provides a significant backdrop of academic rigour that we are glad Tell MAMA’s dataset contributes. One organisation’s work alone can achieve some change, and apply some pressure to bring about policy, but this report represents a timely and convincing synthesis of a broad range of work into a cohesive whole

Tell MAMA continues to grow and mature as an organisation, and, through reports such as this, it – and its work – can improve to better protect and support British Muslims.

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