Hate crimes and other forms of overt bigotry are surging in the United Kingdom, and while the sharpest increase targets Muslims, other victims include people of color, the LGBT community, and the perennial targets of European intolerance, the Roma [previously].
One key reason for the rise was the venomous sentiment whipped up by winguts in their successful campaign for the Brexit, the successful referendum leading to the U.K.’s withdrawal from the European Union.
But Britain’s Prime Minister comes in for his share of the blame as well.
The rise in bigotry has drawn fire in a special report from the Council of Europe’s Commission against Racism and Intolerance [ECRI].
First, a video report from RT:
Cameron responsible for rise in xenophobia & racism abuse in UK – watchdog
A report condemning “considerable intolerant political discourse in the UK, particularly focusing on immigration” was published by the Council of Europe’s Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) on Tuesday. David Cameron was singled out, in particular, for describing asylum-seekers arriving from the Middle East and North Africa as a “swarm.”
More on the report from EurActiv:
In a report, the Council’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) condemned “considerable intolerant political discourse in the UK, particularly focusing on immigration”.
“It is no coincidence that racist violence is on the rise in the UK at the same time as we see worrying examples of intolerance and hate speech in the newspapers, online and even among politicians,” said ECRI Chair Christian Ahlund.
“The Brexit referendum seems to have led to a further rise in ‘anti-foreigner’ sentiment, making it even more important that the British authorities take the steps outlined in our report as a matter of priority.”
In a shock referendum result, Britain voted on June 23 to leave the 28-nation European Union.
Pro-Brexit supporters campaigned heavily on immigration, and the need to regain control on Britain’s borders, in a referendum battle fought against the background of Europe’s worst migrant crisis since World War II.
Numbers, and assignment of blame
In the following excerpt from the report, note in particular the role in inciting intolerance played by the The Sun, a British tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, the same loathsome corporation that owns Fox News.
From the report:
According to the Home Office, there were 52,528 hate motivated criminal offences recorded by the police in the year 2014-2015. These include offences of hate speech and violence. Of note, 42.930 (82%) belonged to the category of race hate crime; 5,597 (11%) were sexual orientation hate crimes; 3,254 (6%) were religious hate crimes; and 605 (1%) were transgender hate crimes. There was an overall increase of 18% compared with 2013-14; the largest increase was in relation to religious hate crime (43%).
When broken down further according to type of offence, the data show that 59% of all hate-motivated offences in 2014-15 were public order offences (the vast majority involving public fear, alarm or distress, 30% related to violence against the person and 7% to criminal damage and arson. ECRI was not able to access any data on offences of incitement to hatred recorded by the police.
In addition to reported hate crime, a survey to measure unreported hate crime is conducted annually. The Crime Survey for England and Wales is a face-to-face victimisation survey in which persons aged 16 and over are asked about their experiences of crime in the past 12 months. The latest survey data revealed that there are an estimated 222,000 hate-motivated criminal offences on average per year, of which 106,000 relate to the race strand. On comparison with the police figures above, it appears that approximately only one in four hate-motivated offences is recorded by the police. This may indicate deficiencies in police recording of hate-motivated offences and unwillingness of hate crime victims to report such crime.
Hate speech in political discourse
In its fourth report, ECRI recommended that the authorities take particular care, when developing and explaining policies, to ensure that the message sent to society as a whole is not one likely to foment or foster intolerance and it urged the authorities to take measures to tackle the exploitation of racism in politics. In this context, ECRI welcomes the Report of the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Electoral Conduct, published in October 2013, and its 2015 General Election Update, as good examples of politicians actively encouraging responsibility to combat racism in political discourse.
Nevertheless, there continues to be considerable intolerant political discourse, coming from the populist anti-migrant UK Independence Party (UKIP) as well as other political actors. Such discourse has focused, in recent years, on the issue of immigration. For example, in the run-up to the lifting of EU restrictions on access to the labour market for nationals of Romania and Bulgaria, there was large-scale scaremongering by UKIP and some Conservative MPs that hundreds of thousands of people from the two nations could soon be on their way to Britain. Terms such as “invasions” and “floods” were frequently used as well as the expression “benefits tourism”, despite a 2013 European Commission study finding no evidence that the main motivation of EU citizens to migrate was benefit related. ECRI considers that using such terms contributes needlessly to an increase in xenophobic sentiments. The Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner stated that it was unacceptable to treat Bulgarian and Romanian citizens like a scourge and that the debate had taken a worrying turn.
Even the Prime Minister, when asked about the Calais crisis in July 2015, spoke of a “swarm” of people crossing the Mediterranean seeking a better life in Britain. The UN Special Representative of the Secretary General for International Migration accused politicians of adopting a “xenophobic response” to the migrant crisis and said their language had been “grossly excessive”.
Muslims are similarly portrayed in a negative light by certain politicians and as a result of some government policies. Their alleged lack of integration and opposition to “fundamental British values”, leading to radicalisation and extremism, is a common theme and contributes to a climate of mistrust and fear of Muslims. For instance, UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, warned that “there is rising public concern about immigration partly because people believe there are some Muslims who want to form a fifth column and kill us”.
In January 2016, the Prime Minister launched a £20 million language fund to enable an estimated 190,000 Muslim women to learn English in a drive to build community integration; while ECRI applauds this programme, it regrets that the Prime Minister associated it with countering “backward attitudes” and extremism. Some Muslim groups accused him of “disgraceful stereotyping of British Muslims”.
Roma, Gypsies and Travellers have also come under attack by politicians. For example, in 2013 a Conservative member of Thurrock Council referred to a Travellers’ planning application as “my big fat Gypsy cesspit” and these words were included in the Thurrock Conservatives press release. A former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, in a press release announcing a crackdown on unauthorised camps, referred to some Travellers as a “blight that would not be tolerated”. He also said, in a television interview, that Travellers could not be allowed to “trash” the green belt. Representatives of Traveller organisations found the comments highly offensive.
There have also been examples of homophobic comments in political discourse. The new Liberal Democrat leader sent a tweet in July 2015 comparing the gay community to “fish” and “frogs” and suggested that homosexuality is curable. In April 2015, Northern Ireland’s Health Minister claimed that children raised by same-sex parents are “more likely” to be abused.
ECRI stresses that prejudicial comments from well-known political figures have an impact on the public and legitimise intolerance. Remarks such as those indicated above can only contribute further to the already high levels of hostility in towards certain vulnerable groups, such as Gypsies and Travellers.
ECRI calls upon all political parties to take a firm stand against intolerant discourse and instruct their representatives to refrain from making derogatory comments targeting a group of persons on grounds of their “race”, religion, citizenship, language, ethnic origin, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Hate speech in traditional media and on the Internet.
ECRI considers that hate speech in some traditional media continues to be a serious problem, notably as concerns tabloid newspapers. According to NGOs, the media play a prominent role in encouraging prejudice against Roma, Gypsies and Travellers, as well as other vulnerable groups. The European Roma and Travellers Forum has expressed concern that some media regularly disseminate biased or ill-founded information about these communities and that they distort and exaggerate facts and reinforce stereotypes. A 2011 survey provides evidence of high levels of negative attitudes in the media in Northern Ireland to wards Travellers and Eastern European Roma.
ECRI notes that certain tabloid newspapers, which are the most widely-read national dailies, are responsible for most of the offensive, discriminatory and provocative terminology. The Sun, for instance, published an article in April 2015 entitled “Rescue boats? I’d use gunships to stop migrants”, in which the columnist likened migrants to “cockroaches”. ECRI notes that following this, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, emphasising decades of “sustained and unrestrained anti-foreigner abuse” in the press, stated that “vicious verbal assault on migrants and asylum seekers in the UK tabloid press has continued unchallenged under the law for far too long”. He urged the authorities and media to take steps to curb such incitement to hatred in line with the country’s obligations under national and international law. The Sun newspaper has also published inflammatory anti-Muslim headlines, such as its front page of 23 November 2015 which read “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis”, along with a picture of a masked terrorist wielding a knife. Unscrupulous press reporting targeting LGBT is also of concern. In March 2013, a trans schoolteacher committed suicide after being outed by the Daily Mail tabloid newspaper.
As concerns Internet hate speech, ECRI notes an upward trend. On-line hate speech targeting Muslims in particular has soared since 2013. This trend has been documented in a paper on Islamophobia and Twitter as well as a recent report of the organisation Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks). Analysis of Tell MAMA’s 2014-2015 data found that of the 548 Islamophobic incidents reported, 402 took place on-line. There is also evidence that anti-Muslim hate targeting Muslim women has increased on-line, via social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. According to the above-mentioned report, this has resulted in a permanent sense of vulnerability, fear and insecurity among Muslims.