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U.K.: Report Says Institutional Islamophobia Could Spark Muslim Discontent

A new report says Muslims in Britain have been demonised in the period since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S. The report, by an independent Islamic think tank, adds that the government so far has failed to prevent what the report calls "institutional Islamophobia."

London, 3 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Britain's Muslims are being demonised in the post-September 11environment and the country faces a ticking time bomb of discontent if the situation doesn't improve.

That's the alarming conclusion of a recent report by the independent "Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia" -- a think tank initially set up by the antiracist Runnymede Trust.
"We are extremely concerned about the way in which Islam is presented in the tabloid press."

The reports follows a study published in 1997 in which the commission made some 60 recommendations for how to improve the situation for the UK's 1.6 million Muslims. The recent study says not only has little changed for the better, in many ways --- and especially since 9/11 -- the situation has deteriorated.

Dr. Abduljalil Sajid is an adviser to the commission. He tells RFE/RL that the report's strong language is justified.

"We say so rightly [in the report] because the evidence which is coming up from...all local authorities after 1997 [about] what they have done [to improve the situation for Muslims] is [that] they have done nothing," Sajid says.

Among the report's findings are that Muslim communities, in general, are experiencing increased acts of hostility, including attacks against persons and mosques. Individual Muslims, the reports says, often feel excluded from public life, where they face institutional Islamophobia.

Sajid says the government has taken measures to combat anti-Muslim feelings, but that local authorities ignore the instructions. "[The authorities] are not including British Muslim youth in their power- and resource-sharing projects. They are not including faith communities -- mosques, synagogues, and churches -- in any opportunity," Sajid says.

He says the attitude of the authorities in general is to treat Muslims like criminals -- such as stopping them indiscriminately in searches.

"We also know there is a phobia in education, in health, in social services, and we also find out that our youth are very angry that they are not being respected and accepted as they are, and Muslim communities feel alienated. That's why we call British society institutionally Islamophobic," Sajid says.

The report says a new generation of Muslims is coming of age that feels "increasingly dissatisfied, alien, and bitter." It calls this a "time bomb."

So far, there has been no official reaction to the report by the British government or local authorities. In past pronouncements, the government has emphasized its commitment to a multiracial and multifaith society.

Robin Richardson edited the text of the report. He outlines some of the changes the commission would like to see made.

"We do call for some changes in law that the government has not been very proactive in; we are extremely concerned about the way in which Islam is presented in the tabloid press. We think that journalists themselves must adopt a code of ethics [of] how they present Islam. Then we have recommendations to individual institutions -- schools, hospitals, police services -- about being more sensitive, both to Muslim employees and to Muslim customers," Richardson says.

Richardson adds that in spite of the generally deteriorating condition, there have been some positive changes -- mostly in that the courts and schools have become more aware of Muslim sensitivities.

"There have been some changes in employment law which are significant -- on the employment of Muslim people, recruiting them and how they are treated in the workplace. Another positive thing is that the courts -- literally the magistrates and judges, but also the police service and the prosecution service -- the whole criminal justice system is much more sensitive than in the past," Richardson says.

However, Sajid says more improvements are urgently needed. He singles out religious-based discrimination, which he says has not yet been outlawed.