There has been a 68% increase in hate crimes against Muslims in the West Midlands since the Middle East conflict erupted in early October, says Witan Solicitors, based on data gathered through a Freedom of Information request to West Midlands Police.
Figures from West Midlands Police covering cities such as Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton and also the Black Country show that 37 Islamophobic offences were recorded in October this year, compared with 22 in the same period last year.
Muslims make up around 30% of the second city’s population and the increase in anti-Islam hate crimes in some of the UK’s most densely populated Muslim areas is alarming. Generally, these areas represent diverse and harmonious communities, but the recent rise undermines the multiculturalism that the UK values.
“People should not be blaming those in their neighbourhoods for what is happening in the Middle East,” says Qarrar Somji, director of the Birmingham-based law firm. “I hope that the police take action to protect members of the community who may be vulnerable right now and investigate properly. It’s crucial that everyone feels safe in our city, regardless of their political or religious beliefs.”
Hamas attacked Israel on 7 October and shortly after, Israel besieged and bombarded the Gaza Strip which has been under the administrative control of Hamas since 2006.
A number of pro-Palestine protests have taken place in Birmingham following the outbreak of war in Israel and Gaza, including a rush hour sit-in at Birmingham New Street train station and a rally where protesters climbed the world’s largest Primark.
Last month, the UK’s former home secretary, Suella Braverman, said the pro-Palestinian marches were “problematic” due to “highly offensive” chants, posters and stickers, as well as “violence around the fringes”.
Birmingham Palestine Action told protesters that they “do not condone violence” and that protests would be “peaceful”. They also instructed attendees not to bring speakers or megaphones but said that banners and flags in support of Palestine were welcome.
Hate crimes ignored
The Muslim community has previously expressed that there is not enough protection from hate crimes in the area and that offences are generally ignored by the wider community.
Earlier this year, the Birmingham Mail reported that Islamophobic offences were going unchallenged in the city, with bystanders turning a blind eye to hate instead of stepping in to help or support victims. A survey of over 130 Muslims found that more than half of respondents had increased levels of anxiety post-pandemic due to hate, stemming from the incorrect belief that Muslims were ‘super-spreaders’ of Covid-19.
Across the UK and in the US
The crisis in the Middle East has not only led to an increase in offences in the West Midlands but also other areas in the UK with high Muslim populations, like Yorkshire and London.
Data gathered from West Yorkshire Police revealed that the number of anti-Islamic faith hate crimes reported has increased by 35% from 28 in October 2022 to 38 in October 2023.
In London, the Met Police reported a 140% surge in Islamophobic offences in the first 18 days of October, from 42 in 2022 to 103.
The US has also seen a rise in Islamophobia. A report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations revealed that the civil rights organisation received 1,283 requests for support and reports of bias from 7 October to 4 November. The organisation claims that the surge in anti-Muslim sentiment in the US marks a 216% increase in Islamophobia compared to 2022 when the organisation received an average of 406 complaints in a 29-day period.
General rise in hate crime
But it is not just the Muslim community that has been affected. Figures show that there has been a general rise in hate crimes nationwide, with 533 hate incidents recorded between 7 October and 20 October, an increase of 651% compared to the previous year.
The figures suggest that violence is being used to silence the voices of supporters on either side of the conflict, particularly those in the Muslim and Jewish communities.