Chris Allen is Associate Professor in Hate Studies at the University of Leicester. For almost two decades, he has been at the forefront of research into Islamophobic and extremist hate.
Levels of hate crime in the UK have been on an upward trajectory over the past few years. None more so than in 2016-17 when overall numbers increased by 29%: the largest annual increase since records began. During this same period of time, the number of racially and religiously-motivated hate crimes recorded reached record levels. As we enter National Hate Crime Awareness Week, this article offers an explanation for these previously unprecedented levels.
For the Government, recent annual increases are ‘likely’ due to improved awareness, better recording, and a greater willingness of victims to come forward. Given 2016-7’s record levels however, this explanation appears simplistic. While likely to result in a greater number of recorded crimes, there would have had to have been extremely significant improvements for that to have translated into a 29% overall increase. Improvements alone also fail to explain record levels of racially and religiously-motivated hate crimes.
As regards the latter, 2016-7 was notable given how certain events duly impacted the levels of hate crime recorded. The first of these was the Brexit referendum. While ‘Leave’ campaigners have since refuted claims that the referendum catalysed a sharp increase in the levels of hate crime in the days and weeks that followed, official data shows that in the 11 month period following the vote hate crimes surged by 23%. Interesting about this was the unprecedented targeting of white Eastern Europeans, anomalous in the British context where racially-motivated hate crime has historically targeted non-white minorities.
Also unique to 2016-7 were the number and scale of terror incidents in the UK. As the official data illustrated, following each incident – in Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge, Finsbury Park and Parsons Green – there was a sharp increase in the number of hate crimes recorded. Noting how this has been a pattern dating back to the 9/11 terror attacks, both research and third-party data from Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) confer legitimacy on the notion that these backlashes are undertaken on the basis of exacting ‘revenge’ against Muslims and their communities. It might be assumed that this would go some way to explaining the record levels of religiously-motivated hate crime.
While the Brexit referendum and number of terror incidents go some way to explaining the size of the increase in 2016-7, they fail to account for the year on year rises. To better understand this, it is necessary to take a broader perspective, one that considers how the socio-political landscape of the UK has changed and developed. For Poynting and Perry, this is important as socio-political landscapes can create climates which bestow ‘permission’ to hate and by consequence, enact hate crime. As they go on, this occurs when political actors and political mechanisms function to dichotomously demarcate ‘us’ from ‘them’: actively constructing ‘Others’ that are indeterminably and unequivocally oppositional, fear inducing and threatening.
This – according to Abrams and Travaglino – was evident in the discourses and rhetoric of Leave campaigners. Building on decades of various political actors routinely and repeatedly demarcating ‘immigrants’ as ‘Others’, Leave campaigners ratified the argument that had been premised many years beforehand that halting immigration – made possible by leaving the EU – would provide a ‘solution’ to the ‘problem’: nullifying the threat posed to ‘us’ by ‘them’. Allen and Young argue that the Brexit referendum achieved this by functioning as a political mechanism that conferred legitimacy on who could and who could not belong: politically and conceptually constructing an ‘us’ from ‘them’ in that it immediately functioned to demarcate who Britain could be ‘home’ for from those it could not. While the referendum was a one-off in this respect, it contributed towards – and fed into – the ongoing construction of a climate that was hospitable to being hateful and by consequence, enacting that hatefulness also.
2017’s unprecedented number of terror attacks can also be contextualized within that process of dichotomously demarcating ‘us’ from ‘them’ that in turn, feeds the construction of a climate that is permissible to hate. This can be seen in how for more than a decade in the UK – at least since the 7/7 terror attacks on the London public transport system in 2005 – political actors have repeatedly identified ‘Muslims’ and ‘Islam’ as problematic ‘Others’ both of which pose something of an existential threat to ‘our’ culture, values and way of life. Attributing all Muslims without differentiation the same attributes and capabilities, it is no surprise that Muslims have become repeat and indiscriminate victims of hate after every terror incident. As Poynting and Perry argue, the hospitable climate constructed by political actors and political mechanisms alike provide a ‘guide to action’ for the willing. For some at least, exacting ‘revenge’ on all and any Muslim can therefore be seen to be justified.
While 2016-7 was therefore notable, to fully understand why the levels of hate crime increased so significantly and why numbers continue to rise year on year it is necessary to look beyond those anomalous events to the socio-political landscape that has emerged and developed in the UK over the past decade or so. In doing so, it is possible to see how a hospitable climate has been established that not only bestows permission to hate but worryingly, permission to engage in hate crime: to justify the use of violence against those deemed to be ‘different’.
With this in mind, it is highly likely that hate crime numbers will continue to increase for the foreseeable future. Noting the concerns of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services – the UK’s police watchdog – the UK’s formal exit from the EU in 2019 is likely to catalyse even more hate and by consequence, more hate crime. Add in the potential for further terror attacks, the reality of political actors further adopting nationalistic and jingoistic discourses of ‘us’ and ‘them’, as also the growing threat posed by the extreme right-wing and the future looks increasingly bleak as does the UK’s socio-political landscape.
For further links please see the website of the Centre for Hate Studies
Chris Allen, Associate Professor, Centre for Hate Studies, University of Leicester
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