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We must be vigilant against bigotry and hatred, but media inflation of the response to a murder, calling it an "unprecedented wave of attacks" against Muslims, risks distorting the real quest for social harmony.

In the wake of the chilling murder of Drummer Lee Rigby on the streets of London, UK, by two Muslim converts last month,  there have been many media reports of increased "attacks directed toward Muslim communities".

There was significant press attention on marches by EDL (English Defence League) mobs, responding to the violent murder with their own violent rhetoric and intimidation in the name of nationalism. But even for their main rally on Whitehall, the EDL attracted only some few hundreds of supporters.

Islamophobia is understood as an irrational hatred or fear of Islam, and there is doubtless bigotry of this form against Muslims, just as biogtry can be directed at any definable group of people. And indeed some predicatable, low level of heightened tension in the wake of the Woolwich murder was apparent.

Nevertheless, if the reports of an “unprecedented” reaction against Muslims in Britain were grossly exaggerated, then the danger is that the press are merely stoking the fires. The tabloid tendency to dramatise events ("tensions heighten", said a Sun newspaper headline) may evoke an inevitable and ongoing escalation, which in fact may only encourage a ramping up of violence among those who really are disposed to reactionary impulses.

These reports of widespread "backlash" against Muslims were taken up and republished unquestioningly by the media in the aftermath of Lee Rigby's murder. The reality however was far less dramatic, IHEU representative Roy Brown told the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday, and if the attention is skewed in the wrong direction, then importantly this may imbalance the government's own long-term strategy on extremism.

The text of Roy's speech follows below.

“Islamopbobia” in Britain

Mr President

A predecessor of Mr Ruteere as Special Rapporteur on Racism, Mr Doudou Dienne, described Islamophobia as a form of racism and the worst kind of religious intolerance [A/HRC/5/10, 25 May 2007]. The OIC [Organisation of Islamic Cooperation] has claimed that Islamophobia is rife in Britain as well as many other countries in Europe and the West.

According to “Tell Mama”, a government-funded organisation charged with reporting attacks on Muslims in Britain, there was “an unprecedented wave of attacks” on Muslims following the murder of Drummer Rigby by two Islamic extremists in Woolwich last month.

That statement however was untrue, and the perception of increasing hostility towards Muslims in Britain is false [This issue is discussed in detail in a report by Andrew Gilligan in the Daily Telegraph]. Not one Muslim was killed or injured in Britain in the aftermath of the Woolwich murder, and hostile comment about Muslims had died down after just a few days.

What the data actually show is a Britain increasingly at ease with its Muslim population: with more Muslim Members of parliament that ever before, some from deeply conservative parts of the country. And the number of far-right local government councillors has fallen dramatically since 2009.

The 238 “attacks” reported by Tell Mama included insults posted on Twitter and Facebook and a few women having their headscarves pulled. Yes, these are regrettable incidents, but symptoms of a country rife with Islamophobia? We think not.

What the British government has failed to do however is counter the radical imams in Britain’s mosques and prisons creating an image of Muslims as victims, and instilling in Britain’s Muslim youth a desire for revenge for non-existent crimes.

If the British government is genuinely concerned to foster cultural harmony, we suggest that the radicalisation of Britain’s Muslim youth is an issue they must tackle, and tackle soon.

Thank you sir.

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