ODVV interview: Islamophobia is a serious issue...
Peter Hopkins, Professor of Social Geography and University Dean of Social Justice at Newcastle University says Islamophobia should be condemned and eradicated from the British society even while racist incidents against the Muslims continue to take place and are condoned frequently. Prof. Hopkins who studies racism, Islamophobia and Muslim identities tells the Organisation for Defending Victims of Violence that less time should be spent on determining the terminology describing anti-Muslim prejudice and hatred and more should be done to actually stop the intimidation of Muslims and acts of violence against them.
Prof. Peter Hopkins is the recipient of a Vice Chancellor's Distinguished Teacher Award in 2011 and was nominated and shortlisted for a Newcastle Teaching Excellence Award in 2013 for Innovative Teaching Methods. He conducts research on intersectionality, equality and diversity and is a member of the Geographies of Social Change research cluster.
In an interview with Organisation for Defending Victims of Violence, Prof. Peter Hopkins shared his views about the rise of Islamophobia in the UK and on the campuses of British universities, Brexit and its impacts on the growth of anti-Muslim prejudice and the importance of education to the elimination of Islamophobia. The following is the text of the interview.
Q: The Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn has recently said that Islamophobia should be condemned the same way anti-Semitism and other forms of racism are condemned, because it doesn't have any place in the British society. What's your reaction to that? Is the conservative government determined to condemn Islamophobia categorically and is there genuinely no place for Islamophobia in the United Kingdom?
A: I agree that Islamophobia should be condemned and should not have a place in British society. If we lived in an ideal society then there would be no Islamophobia; unfortunately, this is not the case as anti-Muslim acts continue to proliferate across the UK, mostly against visible Muslim women – this should not be tolerated. My view is that politicians from all parties need to do more to challenge Islamophobia and work towards creating a society that is free from Islamophobia.
Q: You are a university professor. How much is Islamophobia serious on campus these days? Have the UK universities achieved an integral and effective approach to oppose infringement upon the rights of Muslim students and assault on the hijab-wearing students, secularize education and combat hate speech?
A: Islamophobia is a serious issue on university campuses partly due to the ways in which government policy has placed a duty on universities to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. For example, many universities now have to carry out risk assessments about how students may become drawn into terrorism and have policies about external speakers and public events. In this sense, universities are being made part of a state apparatus that aims to ‘counter-extremism’ – these ‘institutions of the state’ are one of what David Miller and his colleagues have called the five pillars of Islamophobia. Many people are opposed to the Prevent Duty and find it highly problematic. One of the many issues with it is that it places additional attention on Muslim students and acts to securitise them in a context when they should be focusing on pursuing their education and exploring ideas through their university studies.
Q: There are critics who say Islamophobia doesn't exist as such and is actually a pretext for quashing the opponents of political Islam and generally an excuse to silence the critics of the performance of the leaders of Muslim world and Islamic societies. Do you agree with this interpretation?
A: No, I disagree. Muslims are regularly discriminated against and anti-Muslim incidents occur in a range of places in the UK such as on public transport, in shopping malls, in public spaces, in institutions and close to places of worship. This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed – some people refer to this as Islamophobia, some prefer to talk about anti-Muslim hatred and some again think of it as anti-Muslimism. I worry about the focus on the appropriateness of the terminology when we should be concerned about the fact that people are being abused, intimidated and victimised – we should focus on challenging the discrimination rather than spending lots of time debating the terminology. The term Islamophobia does not necessarily stop people from taking issue with specific aspects of the Islamic faith; this is a tactic of avoidance.
Q: Assaults on Muslims and racist incidents increased noticeably following the EU referendum vote and the police statistics reflect this reality. Do you think the Brexit vote has fomented anti-Muslim sentiments and made the life difficult for the Muslims of Britain and immigrants?
A: Yes I do. The EU referendum has provided a platform for racist and Islamophobic sentiments to be expressed openly and for people to feel that they are justified in having such views. I think this is unfortunately one of the reasons why we are seeing an increase in verbal and physical attacks against Muslims.
Q: Handling the race relations and the relations of the followers of different faiths in multicultural societies in which people with different backgrounds have different needs and requirements is highly complicated and difficult. How do you think these relations should be handled and how is it possible to manage them successfully?
A: This is a very difficult and challenging question as relationships between different groups in different places will manifest in different ways so a one-size-fits-all policy is unlikely to be helpful here. I do think a lot can be achieved through education, particularly if this focuses on understanding diverse cultures and different faith groups. There is a lot of misunderstanding and misrepresentation about different ethnic and religious minority groups and working to challenge this could help to promote positive relations between groups.
Q: One of the plagues of the multicultural societies such as Britain is the problem of stereotypes. Everybody expects the Muslims to react to terrorist attacks and distance themselves from them or continuously express their commitment to the values of the society. This is while the expression of solidarity with Muslims at times they experience difficulties and are on the receiving end of hatred and malicious attacks happens rarely. What's your take on that?
A: I have an issue with the idea that all Muslims should be expected to constantly distance themselves from, and denounce, terrorist attacks. This implies that they are somehow responsible for, or connected to, such attacks – it puts the onus onto the Muslim community whereas I think the responsibility for this lies with everyone.
Q: What do you think about the effect of the British media's portrayal of Muslims and their depiction of the Muslim world on the understanding of the British citizens of their fellow Muslims? Are the media playing a constructive role?
A: I don’t think the media are particularly helpful – many Muslims who have participated in research with me argue that the media has a negative impact on their everyday experiences. Some recent research I was involved with explored the political participation of Muslim youth in Scotland – we found that negative media and political representations of Muslims, including the interpretation of government policies such as ‘Prevent’ act as significant barriers to the political participation of young Muslims.
Q: There are campaigns underway by the Muslims in different UK cities to introduce their faith to the general public. How do these campaigns, including Iftar ceremonies in the month of Ramadan, demonstrators and public gatherings influence the awareness of the non-Muslims and the majority of citizens of the lifestyle and worldview of Muslims and the realities of Islam?
A: I think that any actions to raise awareness about the worldview of Muslims and the realities of Islam is a positive move. However, I worry that such campaigns will only reach a relatively small and already enlightened group of society. One of the challenges is about how to reach out to a broader cohort of the population and especially those who tend to espouse racist, Islamophobia and discriminatory behaviours.