Scotland has always considered itself a society that is “open, inclusive and outward-looking” according to its First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. But the nation’s popular and persistent belief that it does not have a racism problem has been contradicted through a study by Tackling Islamophobia, a cross-party group of the Scottish government. This study reveals that 75% of Muslims experienced Islamophobia as a regular or everyday issue.
According to race think-tank the Runnymede Trust, Islamophobia is defined as “hatred or fear of Muslims or of their politics or culture” and can include “any distinction, exclusion, or restriction towards, or preference against Muslims”. Non-Muslims also find themselves victims of Islamophobia when they are mistakenly identified as Muslims, a common experience for ethnic minorities in Scotland.
The report highlights that Muslim women are most likely to suffer from discrimination. The majority of respondents believe that Islamophobia is getting worse in Scotland, with Glasgow showing the highest levels. Mainstream print and broadcast media were seen to promote Islamophobia by the majority of the study’s respondents. Social media was also cited as an arena where Islamophobic attitudes are circulated in Scotland. However, Islamophobia in Scotland is most often experienced in the street in the form of verbal abuse. Muslims in Scotland have responded by changing their everyday habits in efforts to hide their Islamic identities. Some choose not to wear a headscarf or speak in a foreign language on public transport, for example.
In fact, islamophobia stops people's integration and prevents a sense of belonging to the community. People will not feel connected if they don’t speak to their neighbors. This can lead to more isolation and resentment and causes stereotypes and views like "Muslims here take our jobs and houses." We all should be accepting and tolerant of each other. Fear of Islam only leads to hatred. If Islamophobia goes untreated, it can divide societies. It breeds hate, distrust and conflicts.
What Islamophobia has created in Scotland is division within communities, loss of friendships/relationships and neighbors and social isolation. The main barriers it caused, we believe, is preventing integration and social cohesion in Scottish society as a whole. Islamophobia thrives on fear leading to a lack of trust and suspicion of individuals who abide by Islam and live by the Islamic code. This fear is fueled by the media, both social and virtual, which in turn manifests in hate and intolerance, leading to crime and violence.
The evidence submitted to this inquiry makes it clear that Scotland has a very serious set of issues to address in relation to everyday Islamophobia and racism. Inquiry evidence included numerous references to verbal and physical abuses, attacks in and around mosques and religious buildings, and experiences of threatening behavior on public transport. Islamophobia permeates all domains of Scottish society; it is not only restricted to one context. It threatens education, limits employment prospects, and impacts everyday issues including health, wellbeing and housing.
It is time to address the issue of Scotland's Islamophobia rather than deny its existence. The recommendations make it clear that all sectors, agencies and departments need to make long-term changes to eradicate Islamophobia from Scottish society. For its part, Al-Azhar Observatory for Combating Extremism calls for confronting all forms of racism and discrimination, especially Islamophobia, which is one of the biggest problems that Muslims suffer from in the West. It is necessary for Scottish society to promote principles such as integration, peaceful coexistence and citizenship, which helps further in religious minorities' integration and fosters justice and equality among the people of the same nation.