“At times of generalised social crisis, people think they can get away with things in public that they would not normally do,” says Paul Bagguley, a sociologist from the University of Leeds.
Not only is it that people feel they can get away with such things, but they also feel more justified to do so, as the campaign itself held pro-white and xenophobic undertones, pinning blame on the European Union and migrants for issues such as not being able to get homes for their children, as well as promoting fear of more potential migration into their country.
“People haven’t changed,” stated Bagguley, “I would argue that the country splits into two-thirds to three-quarters of people being tolerant and a quarter to a third being intolerant. And a section of that third have become emboldened. At other times, people are polite and rub along.” He believes that justification and emboldening has led to the sharing of ideas that he feels would have typically, under more stable circumstances, have been held back or not expressed.
Tell Mama, a website dedicated to supporting victims of anti-Muslim hate, and measuring and monitoring anti-Muslim incidents, has recorded that in 2015, anti-Muslim hatred rose by 326%. No, that isn’t a typo.
This shows that the Islamophobia and xenophobia were pre-existing social concerns that the politicians of the leave campaign fed off of, in order to raise numbers of votes. While they are by no means phobias that are exclusive to the UK, the country is showing signs of political change and instability that would spark the same reaction anywhere else in the world.
According to the British National Police Chiefs Council, since Brexit, hate crimes have risen 57%. These are dangerous waters both for the internal social cohesion within Britain and the external social cohesion between Britain and surrounding countries. If matters get worse, this has the potential to create displaced peoples who, upon being kicked out of their country, will not have anywhere else to go, which will in turn add to the global refugee crisis.
News outlets have been reporting generalised racial hate attacks, such as the name calling of Polish and Eastern Europeans as “vermin” on signs left in their mailbox in both English and Polish. Boycotting of Muslim butcher shops, egging of women wearing Hijab’s, and many reports of being told to “go home”, usually followed by derogatory terms.
In communities like Oldham in northwest England, which have long been troubled spots for social cohesion, acceptance and integration of migrants, this pre-standing issue has been heightened. Naima Khalid, a British Pakistani, explained her plight for acceptance to Al Jazeera, and the subsequent support group she developed to pioneer community inclusivity. She’s called the group the CHAI (Care, Help and Inspire) Project, where women from minority ethnic communities around Oldham and surrounding areas meet weekly to share stories, support one another, drink chai, and spread awareness through creating community activities. Some of these activities include lectures, and educational workshops. “Islamophobia, bullying, domestic violence, marriage, poverty, health, and local issues are recurring themes” covered in the meet-ups.
While the Chai ladies feel they have been slowly making a positive impact on their community, they are concerned about the impact Brexit will have, and its potential to make their spreading of peace and integration even harder than before.
The ladies have reported increasing exclusion, racist remarks and being told to “go back home” since the referendum, to which they have wondered “but go back where?” One lady, Shagufta, raised an important point: “What about the second or third generation migrants? Where will they go? Britain is a multicultural society, so what about the people with foreign heritage who have their roots here?” she states that “we will only know who we are when someone defines an immigrant. Otherwise I class myself as 100 percent British as I am born and bred here.” Many second and third generation migrants do not have foreign paperwork or citizenship in the country or countries of their heritage. So, for people like Shagufta, there is nowhere to go.
On a more governmental level, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has praised the UK’s progress toward tolerance and inclusivity since the time his parents arrived there in the 1960s. “At that time there were signs … that said no ‘blacks, no Irish, no dogs’, and by no blacks, they meant anyone who wasn’t white. In their [his parents’] lifetime they saw their children being the victims, me and my sister, of racial abuse, getting involved in fights. My daughters, 16 and 18, living in the same area have, thank god, never suffered overt racial abuse. My parent’s son [himself] has now become the mayor of London. That’s the progress we’ve made, and I’m an optimist.”
Mr Khan makes it clear that, despite the current xenophobia and Islamophobia that minorities are facing in his country, he is looking to ensure that they continue to feel welcome, and to lead by example. He himself is Muslim, and in his fight to become Mayor overcame false claims of being linked to ISIS and extremism. He is working to denounce the association created by the media that being a Muslim makes a person connected to extremism, by explaining that extremists are a minority who do not speak for the faith of Islam.
Becoming the Mayor of London as a Muslim in itself, particularly at a time of such anti-Islam sentiment, was a commendable feat, internationally acknowledged as a multi-culturally positive move. This shows that despite today’s general Islamophobia, there is still hope for acceptance despite prejudice.
As you can see, the post Brexit situation in the UK is allowing for xenophobic notions to bubble to the surface. While playing on the theme of blaming the ‘other’ may have been an influential tactic by the leave campaign to collect votes, it is not a positive step in terms of keeping the peace. Actions such as the initiative shown by both local communities, displayed in Naima Khalid, and by governmental players, displayed in Sadiq Khan, need to be publicised in the media, and replicated by the people.
While it is never as easily done as said, it is important that the community works together to shift thinking away from indoctrinated themes of racial prejudice, nationalism that inspires racism, and Islamophobia, and toward a more forward-thinking, tolerant, multi-cultural society. The perpetrators of racism do not represent Britain as a country, just as Muslim extremists do not represent Islam as a religion. However, the UK, much to the pride of Sadiq Khan, has at large beat racism before, and can surely do so again.
A peaceful and multi-cultural society is not a Utopian daydream, it is possible, and it is increasingly becoming a reality with every person who speaks up against racism, and every child who is brought up to be kind to others. No matter what colour their skin is, or what faith they subscribe to.