The issue of ‘Hate Crime’, and the often vexed debates around strengthening anti-hate crime laws, has reared its head most recently with the introduction of the controversial Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish Parliament earlier this year.
That Bill has faced widespread backlash and opposition north of the border, with the debate, as usual, being reduced to that of competing freedoms: ‘freedom of speech’ versus freedom from hate, injury or harassment.
But this battle of freedoms is beside the point: the real discussion should be about who holds the power to determine and tackle hate crime, who is likely to be caught up in the policing of hate crime – and who is likely to be spared sanction.
Hate crime laws as part of the counter-extremism arsenal
This is a particularly urgent matter as far as Muslim communities are concerned given the move towards connecting hate crime and counter-extremism, which has happened in three steps.
First racism, Islamophobia and other forms of ‘hate’ are decoupled from the broader political culture of the British political class, and exceptionalised as the preserve of a societal fringe;
Second, ‘hateful’ activity is collapsed as a form of ‘extremism’ that must be tackled by the growing surveillance apparatus of the counter-extremism matrix;
Third, this is used to in turn legitimise the funding, expansion and mainstreaming of that very counter-extremism matrix.
Can Muslims really trust counter-extremists to resist hate crime?
‘Hate crime’ is, as the name suggests, a matter of policing and criminal justice. That is to say, it falls to the same justice system in which Muslims constitute 15% of the prison population, and into the hands of the same police that are known to profile, mistreat and brutalise Muslims and other communities.
And in light of the fact that the policing of hate crime has increasingly been absorbed into the remit of counter-extremism/counter-terrorism, CAGE, as well as other campaigning groups, have warned against the headlong drive to strengthen and expand the policing of hate crime.
We have seen this demand towards tackling hate crime through the likes of Prevent and related ‘counter-extremist’ programmes emerging from a number of <places>.
The Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s 2018 report A Shared Future proposed introducing a new category of ‘hateful extremism’, a call echoed by the Commission for Countering Extremism’s (CCE) 2019 report Challenging Hateful Extremism.
Earlier this year it was announced that CCE Board member, and former head of Counter Terror Policing, Mark Rowley was leading a review “to examine whether existing legislation adequately deals with ‘hateful extremism’”, with a view to tightening up gaps in existing hate crime laws.
And most recently, the Financial Times reported the possibility that an overhaul of the government’s counter-extremism strategy would include a renewed drive to target and disrupt “hateful behaviour”.
We should be aware of double standards on ‘hate crime’
The question that faces Muslims then is not simply which ‘freedom’ we will most firmly stand behind – but rather the question of who we are standing alongside.
The fact that, in calling for tighter anti-hate crime laws and policies we would objectively be allying ourselves with ‘counter-extremist’ apologists and securocrats should give serious pause for thought.
It surely seems illogical – if not a little ironic – that the very figures and sectors that have criminalised, surveilled and rendered Muslims as objects of their own hate and suspicion are most vested in expanding and strengthening hate crime laws.
This two-faced approach is no less stark than the double standards applied to Muslims and their “rights”, or the intransigence of the government and its outriders on the subject of hate crime against Muslims, versus hate crime against other communities.
We have all witnessed, for example, the manner in which any criticism of the censorious IHRA definition of antisemitism is considered inexcusable, while the APPG definition of Islamophobia – itself mirroring the IHRA definition almost entirely – was subject to a vigorous campaign of attack and opposition, before being quickly dismissed by the government.
As rightly exasperating as these double standards may be, it does not erase the fact that the IHRA definition itself is wholly unfit for purpose and has been used to attack and undermine pro-Palestine activism.
Indeed the wave of repression carried out against pro-Palestine activism over recent years has in large part been driven by attempts to recast anti-Zionism as antisemitism, and therefore for it to be policed as a form of hate crime.
Organisations promoting such tactics are also not shy of making the supposed connection between anti-Zionism, antisemitism and Muslims clear – and so entangling ourselves with these actors will certainly not be beneficial in the long-term for Muslims.
The fact that the government and its right wing allies disingenuously present the Islamophobia definition as more worthy of condemnation and criticism does not imbue that definition with any extra virtue or value, nor should it provide an opportunity for those who have long been at odds with our communities to clean up their image.
Muslims must reconsider their approach
Taking these arguments into consideration, anti-hate crime policing is clearly not the neutral arbiter of freedom some would like to believe it is.
Rather, it has become a trojan horse for the expansion of state surveillance policies, particularly against activist causes supported by Muslims. In seeking support from such policing, we would be asking for protection from the very forces that have made life for a great deal of Muslims intolerable over the last two decades.
At a bare minimum, we suggest:
- collectively demanding that ‘hate crime’ be firmly decoupled from the framework of ‘extremism’;
- ensuring that in rallying for the defence of Muslim communities we do not reinforce the arguments of programmes like Prevent; go beyond a narrow focus on strengthening ‘hate crime’ laws, to take better heed of exactly who we make alliances with;
- do our research and refuse to compromises with leaders that are ultimately responsible for facilitating Islamophobia, in any way shape or form;
- seek accountability for those that do this through a unified community strategy.
For this Islamophobia Awareness Month, we must seriously reconsider our approach to defending our communities, and ensure that it does not come at the cost of lending a lease of life to failing counter-extremism policies.
Image courtesy of Flickr/duncan c
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)