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UK government fails to act on anti-Muslim discrimination post September 11

3 September 2002

Despite ministerial statements made in the wake of September 11 2001, little government action has been taken to protect British Muslims from widespread discrimination, according to a new report from Minority Rights Group International. In some areas discrimination has increased, and government initiatives are urgently needed to address marginalization, prejudice and inter-community tensions.

MRG’s report highlights how the fall-out of the attacks of September 11 2001 has had a very real impact on Muslims in Britain. Reports of race hate attacks have increased and many feel more vulnerable to abuse, or further marginalized by Islamophobia in the media. New legislation introduced to deal with suspected terrorists poses a threat to Muslims’ civil liberties. But, as MRG’s report further documents, Muslims have long experienced discrimination:

  • Levels of overcrowding, disability and educational under-achievement are disproportionately high among Britain’s 2 million Muslims (predominantly of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin).
  • Muslims represent 9 per cent of prisoners (over 2.5 times the proportion of Muslims in the population), and report unfair treatment from police officers, the probation service, courts and prison officers.
  • Among Asians in Britain, Muslims are disadvantaged. Indian Muslims are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as Hindus, while Pakistani Muslims are more than three times as likely to be unemployed as Hindus.

Although Muslim participation in national and local mainstream politics has grown since the 1970s, according to MRG’s report, discriminatory attitudes across the political spectrum have limited Muslims’ progress and they have faced resistance in selection processes. According to one Muslim local councillor, ‘Muslims feel cheated and used by both the Labour Party and the Conservatives. They express sympathy only when they need Muslim support. They put us on worthless committees and in positions which lack authority.’

Current anti-discrimination laws leave Muslims in Britain with little specific protection: the Race Relations Acts do not cover religion and MRG calls on the British government to consider introducing legislation to tackle religious discrimination. While the creation last year of a new category of religiously aggravated offences was welcome, steps should also be taken to address the high rate of unemployment and economic exclusion among certain Muslim communities.

Said MRG’s director Mark Lattimer, ‘British Muslim communities are not to blame for the terrible events of September 11, but they have been made to suffer. Without positive engagement by the government with the causes of Islamophobia, polarization between communities and expressions of antagonism against British Muslims will continue.’

Notes for editors