The triggering of Article 50 on 29th of March which signalled the start of the two-year long process of the UK’s negotiations to leave the EU has been met with hugely differing reactions. From those in the Leave camp who want the country’s national sovereignty restored, it is hard to remember a time in recent history when the UK has felt so divided. This feeling has only been exacerbated by Scotland’s decision to hold a second independence referendum.
While many people across the country – and indeed the whole EU – are feeling uncertain and even scared, for some communities this worry is stronger than others.
In the immediate aftermath of the referendum for the UK to leave the EU it was recorded that there was a 41% increase in hate crimes, which includes racially or religiously aggravated crimes. And Muslim women, in particular those who openly express their faith by wearing the hijab or the burqa, are more vulnerable to attacks than men. Tell MAMA, an organisation that measures anti-Muslim attacks, noted that “women were more likely to be attacked or abused while travelling on public transport to town and city centres or when shopping.”
This is a consequence of a Leave campaign which relied on anti-immigrant rhetoric to gain votes. The issue of high levels of immigration has been an issue for the British electorate for many years now, as they fear the rising population to be a strain on public services. Nigel Farage, former leader of UKIP, took advantage of this fear by unveiling a highly controversial poster during the campaign which was of a queue of immigrants, largely from the Middle East, with the words “Breaking point: the EU has failed us all.”
However, this increase in hate crime – and especially Islamophobia – did not begin with the referendum. The far-right in the UK has been growing in recent years, with groups taking advantage of the internet and social media to reach more people. Tommy Robinson, co-founder of the English Defence League, has a large following on Twitter which he uses as a platform.
The political climate of Brexit, along with the US election of Donald Trump, has marginalised many ethnic minorities in both the UK and the US. Prime Minister Theresa May failed to condemn President Trump’s policy of a travel ban for some majority-Muslim countries. This has led to many ethnic minorities, especially Muslims, feeling isolated and stigmatised as ‘terrorists’.
Another issue that Brexit brings is whether citizens’ rights will still be protected. Currently the UK abides to the European Court of Human Rights and its rulings, where families and individuals are protected. Leaving the EU will mean that a new set of rights will be drawn up, which could affect the rights of many citizens, especially immigrants, in the UK.
Despite these numerous causes for concern, the attack in Westminster on March 22nd, rather than inciting racism and Islamophobia led instead to an outpouring of solidarity. London, being the second most culturally diverse city in the world, united in the face of terrorism.
Islam as a religion should not be smeared by horrific individual acts. The recent news of a Kurdish-Iranian 17 year old asylum seeker being attacked in Croydon is shocking, yet in a way unsurprising. Unfortunately, there is now an unjustified fear of immigrants, which means that in the UK, Muslims and other ethnic minorities have to be careful whilst in public. Muslim women should be especially careful as their headwear is indicative of their faith. Until the process of Brexit is settled and an immigration policy is decided, the far right will use the platform of social media to make immigrants the enemy.
At JAN Trust, we believe that this climate of fear is counter-productive in creating tolerance in a British society which takes pride in multiculturalism. The UK must remain tolerant of other communities if we are to progress and improve as a society.