In the shadows of the Brexit vote and a new movement toward nationalism, the U.K. has seen a significant increase in the number of hate crimes against Muslims in the past few years.
Muslim women, in particular, bore the brunt of the recent hate crimes and many have resorted to wearing caps instead of hijab – a headscarf mostly worn by observant Muslim women.
A week after the Christchurch mosque attacks in New Zealand last year, the number of reported hate crimes against Muslims in the U.K. soared by 593%. These incidents often saw white males making gun gestures at Muslims in the street or shouting obscenities towards those who appeared to be Muslim. In more extreme cases, mosques and people were physically targeted.
This reaction after the Christchurch attack follows the same pattern that occurred after the Manchester Arena bombing. In the week following that attack, there was a 700% rise in the number of reported hate crimes against Muslims.
Evidently, the rise in hate crimes after the New Zealand attacks suggests that this kind of atrocity is further emboldening hate rather than helping forge a sense of solidarity with those who have been innocently killed.
While there is undoubtedly a link between terror attacks and the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.K., it is also something that many believe is being fueled by irrational fears among the middle-class.
Is it mainstream in the middle-class?
Many experts have noted that despite the liberal shifts in public attitudes, openly racist and Islamophobic behavior has become more subtle and is practiced more often in the setting of "middle-class dinner tables."
Statistics also prove that many people still see Islam in an unfavorable light, as 18% of people in the U.K. hold very negative views of Muslims. Accordingly, 44% of the U.K. public believes Islam is a grave threat to Western civilization, while 31% of people are convinced Islam is a threat to the British way of life, compared to 32% of people who think Islam is compatible with the British way of life.
The main reasons for this negative outlook on Muslims stem from the fear that Islam will threaten British values, laws and freedom of speech. It has been reported that 41% of people in the U.K. think that Islam threatens the British way of life because "Islam breeds intolerance for free speech and calls for violent actions against those who mock, criticize or depict the religion in ways they believe are offensive." Moreover, 36% of people thought that Islam threatens their way of life because "Islam seeks to replace British law with Sharia law."
Those who perceive multiculturalism and immigration negatively tend to be the most likely to hold anti-Muslim prejudices.
Simultaneously, those anti-Muslim outlooks come from different places. Among those with more negative opinions, there are claims of far-right "race substitution" conspiracies, that Muslim populations have a higher population growth rate than non-Muslims and will make the white British demographic a minority. There are also unfounded fears that the Muslim community in the U.K. is directly linked to radical global terrorism, which perpetuates fears.
Are liberals guilty too?
Nonetheless, the tendency for the middle-class to be Islamophobic isn't confined to just one side of the political spectrum. A substantial anti-Muslim bias has also been found among left-leaning people who have more tolerant and liberal outlooks. It was reported that 25% of people who read The Guardian, a liberal, left-wing editorial, believe that Islam is a grave threat to Western civilization, while 14% consider Islam a threat to the British way of life. Another 18% of these liberal readers believe that there are no-go zones in the U.K., where sharia law dominates and non-Muslims are not able to enter.
Liberals that hold anti-Muslim views justify their fears by arguing that the tendency for Islam to oppress and disregard women's and girls' rights threatens the British culture. This singling out of Islam as anti-feminist tends to be a critical factor in fueling Islamophobia within the Liberal middle-class. Nevertheless, there are challenges among Muslim communities in tackling misogyny, like in other societies of the world.
However, it has become a common assumption among many liberals that all Muslim women need to be "liberated" from their culture, which is a biased notion drawn from colonial and orientalist narratives. Polling undertaken by the Independent shows Muslims are less likely than Christians or Hindus to believe that feminism is making men feel marginalized and demonized in society.
Indeed, Islamophobic attitudes are found across the political spectrum and are not solely derived from one group of people. To the extent that hatred is present among the uneducated working class, it is also present, perhaps in more sinister forms, among educated and liberal communities. The sooner the U.K. can acknowledge the broad spectrum of Islamophobia, the sooner the country can begin to unite against it.
* Middle East analyst based in London, pursuing Ph.D. in Middle Eastern political history