New research has drawn a direct link between prejudiced portrayals of Muslims in the media and an increase in violent attacks on Muslims in London.
The evidence is given in a report from the University of Exeter. The authors, Robert Lambert – a former special branch officer - and Jonathan Githens-Mazer, carried out numerous interviews with the victims and perpetrators of hate crime, as well as members and former members of far-right groups.
They say that most anti-Muslim hate crime is committed by people who “feel licensed to abuse, assault and intimidate Muslims in terms that mirror elements of mainstream media and political comment that became commonplace during the last decade."
The report points to a rise in anti-Muslim abuse at various levels, ranging from murders to persistent harassment and name-calling in the street. While the researchers focused on London, they are now planning to do similar research in other parts of the country.
Lambert and Githens-Mazer refrain from mentioning any newspapers by name. However, the Daily Express, Daily Star and Daily Mail have all attracted criticism in recent years for their portrayal of Islam and Muslims. Critics accuse them of prejudice, misrepresentation and a disproportionate focus on a small number of extremists to the exclusion of other Muslims.
The closest the study comes to mentioning a specific journalist is its allusion to the phrase “Londonistan”, which formed the title of a book by the right-wing Mail columnist, Melanie Phillips.
"Islamophobic, negative and unwarranted portrayals of Muslim London as Londonistan and Muslim Londoners as terrorists, sympathisers and subversives in sections of the media appear to provide the motivation for a significant number of anti-Muslim hate crimes," declares the report.
The researchers interviewed “an experienced BNP activist in London” who “believes that most BNP supporters simply followed the lead set by their favourite tabloid”.
However, the study found that most police officers are committed to addressing anti-Muslim abuse. They are hampered by a smaller number of officers
who do not take the issue seriously. It also appears clear that most low-level hate crime is never reported to the police.
Recent years have seen a number of murders and attempted murders targeted at Muslims. Within the last year, two right-wing extremists have been convicted of anti-Muslim bomb plots, there was an arson attack on the Greenwich Islamic Centre, PhD student Yasir Abdelmouttalib was beaten until brain-damaged and a Muslim pensioner, Ikram Syed ul-Haq, was murdered.
The researchers are keen to appeal to a wide spectrum of political opinion to make their point. The report's foreword is written by the right-of-centre journalist, Peter Oborne, who criticises "the constant assault on Muslims from certain politicians and above all in the mainstream media”.