London - In 2011, 2,000 crimes were recorded against different faith groups in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, according to a recent BBC article. There is a growing perception – due to high-profile incidents and the rise of extreme anti-Muslim rhetoric – that Muslims are increasingly the target of attacks. While it is easy to blame law enforcement agencies for not tackling this issue, the reality is that we need to focus less on blame and more on how civil society and law enforcement can work together to get accurate information on anti-Muslim crime and combat it.
Faith Matters, an organisation dedicated to creating community cohesion amongst faith communities in the UK, recently launched an effort to try to do just that.
Over the last two years, Faith Matters developed the Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) campaign which supports Muslims who have suffered hate crimes in England. Through it, we can map, measure and analyse hotspots where such attacks are taking place. Tell MAMA uses crowd-sourcing software that maps events in real time. The goal is to help provide law enforcement with more accurate information about where attacks occur, and to point victims to organisations who can assist them.
While attacks against individuals of any background are to be deplored, Faith Matters believes it is essential to track anti-Muslim attacks specifically because policymakers simply do not have data on these and there is little that they can do to counter hate crime without accurate information. In addition, by collecting data and making it public, Faith Matters can help victims come forward and play a role in tackling the problem, rather than watching victims retreat in fear – which can lead to isolation, feelings of victimisation and a divided society.
When a particular attack is recorded through Tell MAMA, the attack will appear on an online map, thus “geo-locating” the incident. Furthermore, Faith Matters staff can make contact with individuals who contact Tell MAMA through Facebook, Twitter, SMS and other sources to discuss the case and verify that it is an anti-Muslim incident or attack. If an attack is not anti-Muslim, it will not be recorded, but Faith Matters will refer victims of such attacks, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, to the relevant authorities and to partner agencies like Victim Support, the national organisation for crime victims in the UK; Neighbourhood Watch, which links communities and police; and/or counselling organisations – as well as referring the attack to the police for proper investigation. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the Association of Muslim Police, Surrey Police and the Scottish Police Muslim Association have all expressed their support for the Tell MAMA project.
Because anti-Muslim crime is sometimes based on appearances, Tell MAMA data also includes those who have been attacked because they were perceived to be Muslim. Furthermore, if there are attacks against minorities within Muslim communities, such as Ahmadis (members of a group founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, an Indian religious leader who claimed he was the promised messiah foretold by the Prophet Muhammad) Tell MAMA will also record these incidents.
By December 2012, Tell MAMA will be able to provide actual numbers of anti-Muslim attacks, geographical locations and hotspots, the types of cases and other quantitative and qualitative data, as well as analysis about why there may be more crime in a particular area.
The collection and distribution of data on anti-Muslim attacks is key for law enforcement and civil society to be able to work together to end hate crime. The work of the Community Security Trust (CST), a UK organisation which focuses on security for the Jewish community, is one example of how this has been used for another faith group. Their work shows that collecting such data in relation to anti-Semitic crime not only supports greater community vigilance, but also ensures that policymakers are aware of the scale of the problem and makes it clear that anti-Semitism needs to be taken seriously.
Come December 2012, activists working for an end to hate crime will have some tangible evidence that they can use to develop strategies for countering anti-Muslim attacks through further work with law enforcement and for public education. We hope that the work of Tell MAMA will lead to an understanding that anti-Muslim attacks are indeed a problem, and lead to a greater focus on countering them through efforts from multiple sectors. Anti-Muslim attacks are something that we need stand up against – everyone deserves to live their lives free from fear and with dignity.
* Fiyaz Mughal is the Founder and Director of Faith Matters (www.faith-matters.org), an organisation that works to resolve conflict and create community cohesion through collaboration between faith communities in the United Kingdom and the Middle East. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 17April 2012, www.commongroundnews.org Copyright permission is granted for publication.
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