Islamophobia is rising in the UK—do Muslims need to reach out more?

Islamophobia is rising in the UK—do Muslims need to reach out more?

Islamophobia is rising in the UK—do Muslims need to reach out more?
Culture & Entertainment
Photo: London, UK - September 29, 2017: People are seen walking by restaurants of the South Bank in London. Sterling Images /

The majority of Britons agree with racial profiling of Arabs and Muslims, and 69 percent think the UK should take in fewer refugees from Syria and Iraq, according to a poll by Arab News and YouGov.

The “UK attitudes toward the Arab world” poll, which was conducted in mid-August, illustrates a disparity in UK public opinion on the Arab world. Conducted among 2,142 adults, it found that UK residents have strong feelings about key Middle East issues, including the fight against Daesh (the so-called Islamic State) and the war in Iraq, but 81 per cent admitted to knowing little or nothing about the Arab world.

One of the main findings of the poll, which was conducted in conjunction with the Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu), was that 55 percent of Britons agree with racial profiling against Arabs and Muslims for security reasons.

Seven in 10 believe the UK should take in fewer refugees from Syria and Iraq, rising to 91 percent among those who voted for the UK to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum. More than six in 10 of the respondents feel that Arabs who migrated to the UK and Europe have failed to integrate into Western societies. But 72 percent also point to the problem of rising Islamophobia in the UK, with 70 percent saying that anti-refugee statements from politicians and others risk sparking more hate crimes.

“The poll results are alarming,” said Faisal J. Abbas, Editor-in-Chief of Arab News. “But the question is, is the UK becoming a heartless nation, or is the Arab world just not communicating the right message?” However, Abbas said he that he strongly believes the UK’s current hostility towards Arab immigrants is “just a phase”.

Faizal J Abbas_Editor-in-Chief for Arab News
Photo: Faizal J. Abbas, Editor-in-Chief, Arab News

Abbas said the British media should be fairer when covering the Arab world but added that the Arab world must to make itself “relevant” again. Speaking about Saudi Arabian media in particular, Abbas said, “We have to do our best to remain relevant, send clear messages and do our best with the restrictions we have.”

Chris Doyle, Director of Caabu, said the apparent lack of a broader awareness in the UK about the Arab world was cause for concern. “People have curious perceptions about the Arab world,” he said. If people are willing to learn, then we can make progress, but there is a lot of work to be done.”

Abbas observed, “The Arab community needs to properly engage with the stakeholders to get out message across. But this [initiative] needs leadership, and who will lead it? Somebody needs to get out there and take the lead.”

Doyle argued, “All of this needs to be a joint effort because it’s so easy to simply blame others. We need to get away from that approach. “We need to hit the ‘reset’ button when it comes to how we approach the [Middle East].”

Fiyas Mughal, founder of the multi-faith discourse organisation Faith Matters, said he “wasn’t surprised” by the results of the Arab News survey. “The Internet in particular has pushed the fact that Arabs and Muslims are a security threat. Let’s be clear; this is not something new, and these narratives have been around since the early 1990s. The Internet gave them voice, and such toxic rhetoric is moving from the fringes into the mainstream. What adds to it is Islamist extremism and terrorism, which confirms in the minds of some that Muslims and non-Muslims cannot live together.”

Mughal suggested that financial sanctions should be enforced against media companies who do little to address hate speech on platforms. “Facebook in particular is a good example of taking social responsibility. There is a huge chasm between the social responsibilities of Facebook and Twitter. The former cares; the latter plays the public relations game.”

Mughal also suggests that the government should increase sentencing for hate crimes. “These crimes have significant impacts on communities, and the [punishments] need to reflect the wider impact. Suspended sentences for damaging mosques is not good enough, as the impact is very wide and on all of those who use the mosque.”

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