Islamophobia report reveals Scotland is not as tolerant as it would like to believe
Scotland has always seen itself as an “open, inclusive and outward-looking society” according to its Prime Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. But the nation’s popular and enduring belief that it has no problem with racism has been contradicted by a study by Tackling Islamophobia, a Scottish government all-party group. This strikingly reveals that 75% of Muslims experienced Islamophobia as a regular or daily problem.
According to the Race Think Tank Runnymede Trust, Islamophobia is defined as “hatred or fear of Muslims or their politics or culture” and can include “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference towards Muslims” . Non-Muslims also find themselves victims of Islamophobia when they are mistakenly identified as Muslims, an experience all too common for ethnic minorities in Scotland.
The report points out that Muslim women are the most likely to suffer from discrimination. The majority of people believe Islamophobia is worsening in Scotland, with Glasgow showing the highest levels. The major print and broadcast media were seen as promoting Islamophobia by the majority of those interviewed for the study. Social media has also been cited as an arena where Islamophobic attitudes circulate in Scotland. However, Islamophobia in Scotland is most often experienced on the streets in the form of verbal abuse.
Muslims in Scotland have responded by changing their daily habits in an attempt to hide their Islamic identity. Some choose not to wear a headscarf or speak a foreign language on public transport, for example.
The Scottish exception
Scotland has largely escaped criticism in public debates about race and racism due to the commonly held attitude that there is nothing wrong to discuss. Scottish political elites have helped advance the narrative that Scotland is more collectivist in nature and places a higher value on social welfare, which makes it exceptional in this issue for other parts of the UK , including England.
These arguments have been used to promote a civic brand of Scottish nationalism that has successfully garnered support from ethnic minority groups, including among young adults. While it is good that Scotland has an inclusive notion of citizenship, we must be careful not to make general generalizations about Scottish exceptionalism.
At the successful Kenmure Street protest in Glasgow in May – where protesters interrupted a British government immigration raid on two Indian men in an apartment – there were numerous anti-UK banners and proclamations of Scotland having a better attitude towards racing. The protest was a significant victory for community resistance, but using it to justify outstanding notions of Scottish tolerance and inclusion is misleading.
There is some evidence to suggest that the Scottish public places a higher value on social welfare, and recent election results point to a preference for voting for center-left political parties. It is also true that Scotland has a long history of worker-led social justice campaigns. However, the extent to which Scotland is more open or inclusive to immigrants than other parts of the UK is often overestimated. For example, YouGov survey data found that public attitudes towards immigration were broadly similar north and south of the border.
In the case of Kenmure Street, news reports focused on the hostile approach of the British immigration service, which was seen as symbolizing the cruelty of the Westminster establishment. Despite claims that it would implement a ‘just and humane asylum and refugee system’, the Scottish government has not been explicit on how it would regulate immigration if it had the legislative powers to do so. do so (immigration is a matter for Westminster). It is not clear, for example, how it would process asylum claims or respond to failed claimants. It is therefore easy for the Scottish Government to capitalize on this sensitive issue in campaigns and public debates.
What can be done?
The Tackling Islamophobia report recommends that political and municipal leaders make their voice heard in the fight against Islamophobia by adopting a position of non-tolerance. He advocates the inclusion of Muslims in public councils and leadership positions. In addition, it is suggested that Islamophobia be included in the existing framework for racial equality.
These formal improvements could help pave the way for tackling the root causes of Islamophobia in Scotland. But it is equally important that the Scottish public heed the worrying findings of this report and recognize that in reality Scotland has a bad reputation for treating some of its most vulnerable citizens. The proclamations of Scottish exceptionalism and ‘no problem here’ only hamper this process.
Evidence suggests that Scotland has a long way to go to live up to its perception of being open, inclusive and outward looking, especially for its Muslim population. The country must let go of its complacency and examine its efforts to combat discrimination, and determine how much it actually listens to and includes its Muslim citizens at all levels of society. It starts with an acceptance of hard and cold facts, which can be a little hard for some to hear.