Time to Act on Islamophobia

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Today has seen the publication of a survey of 1000 young people conducted by Radio 1’s Newsbeat, which found that a quarter of the young people questioned didn’t trust Muslims.

28% said Britain would be better off with fewer Muslims, and 44% said Muslims did not share the same values as the rest of the population.

Having worked with thousands of young people in schools across England over the last year, this finding resonates with our experience. Many non-Muslim young people who do not regularly interact with Muslims on a regular basis, treat Muslim people as separate and ‘other’.

Young people may not even recognise their opinions as prejudicial. We were working with a teenager in Bexley a couple of months ago, who said to me “I hate racism, I don’t know how anyone could be racist, racists should be locked up” then in the next breath added “Muslims right, they should wear our clothes and eat our food. If they don’t like it they should get out of our country…” When told of a hate-crime committed against a young Asian man, another boy replied “Well that’s kind of bad, but kind of OK because the Asian boy might have been a terrorist or something and just no-one had found out yet.”

It is not surprising that young people are taking on these prejudicial ideals. Throughout Europe Muslim communities are being demonised by politicians and the press. If a Muslim becomes involved in crime, the whole community is held to account and accused of not doing enough to prevent this from happening. Similar blame is not placed at the foot of non-Muslim communities. If a crime is committed by a white British non-Muslim they are held to account as individuals, not as representatives of their ethnic group. A study of 352 articles in a week during 2007 found that 91% of articles about Muslims were negative and a Channel 4-commissioned survey of 974 articles from 2000 to 2008 found that Two thirds portrayed British Muslims as a ‘threat’ and a ‘problem’.

References to ‘radical Muslims’ outnumbered references to ‘moderates’ by 17 to one.

Despite only being worn by a very small minority of Muslim women, debates as to whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear the niqab (face veil) have raged throughout the mainstream media in the UK for the past few weeks, with women who wear the niqab being presented as dangerous, frightening and a threat to ‘British identity’. You can read measured responses to this debate here and here.

If they weren’t ringing already, today’s survey should be setting off alarm bells. We cannot sit back and allow people to be demonised in this way. We all need to ensure that we challenge Islamophobia wherever and whenever we encounter it. Those who spread stories of hate in order to shift papers or win votes need to be held to account for their actions, and young people need to be equipped with skills to think critically about the information that they receive, to check their sources and to question their attitudes and opinions.

We cannot afford not to act. It is vital that we provide young people with an alternate message than that which they are fed by the tabloid press and social media, to ensure that they are growing up without the burden of prejudice and hate and that our schools and youth clubs provide inclusive and welcoming environments where everybody feels safe and able to achieve.

Sarah Soyei: Director, EqualiTeach: sarah@equaliteach.co.uk

Islamophobia Workshops

EqualiTeach delivers tailored workshops on Islamophobia for schools and youth settings. The aims of these workshops are to provide:

  • To provide educators and youth leaders with an opportunity to raise their concerns about combating Islamophobia and have these addressed
  • To provide skills to allow educators to effectively challenge prejudicial attitudes in order to create positive change, whilst avoiding actions which will escalate conflict
  • To demonstrate activities which can be used throughout the curriculum to encourage young people to think critically about the information that they receive
  • To enable participants to recognise and respond appropriately to prejudice-related incidents

If you would like more information or to invite us to come and work with you, please contact us.

EqualiTeach has also developed an educational resource to support teachers to discuss controversial and sensitive issues in the classroom, which is free to download, called ‘Universal Values‘.

 

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