By Mohamed Chebaro
October 26, 2018
The announcement by the British Home Office last week of a 40 percent rise in hate crimes in the UK should not be read on its own, but should be put into context with many global events that have been affecting societies everywhere.
Such an unprecedented rise in hate crimes could be due to improved police record collection, the report stipulates, but political, economic and social developments have also been catalysts for the increase.
Terror attacks that took place last year in Manchester and London could be blamed for this massive increase. But Brexit debates and the rise of populism, coupled with a rise in patriotism, have exacerbated the problem. Social media and the readily available hate narrative has only confounded the problem by winning more recruits to such heinous acts, which destabilize society and drive a wedge in between various coexisting communities.
The new statistics paint a grim picture and show that Muslims and Jews bore the brunt of the majority of hate-related crimes committed in the UK. Crimes were also recorded with victims being targeted based on their sexual orientation, race, nationality, and being a refugee, which must prompt a further tightening of the laws to protect vulnerable people.
In a complex world, hate crime is maybe the bottom of the list of priorities of the authorities, but this rise in offenses is indicative of a cultural, social and economic imbalance.
The waves of terror attacks recorded in the UK and other Western cities in the past few years have impacted social cohesion and misguided some to act violently against fellow citizens who are of a different creed, culture or color.
The arrival and settlement of large numbers of refugees in Western cities in a short period of time as a direct result of conflicts and wars could also be responsible for the spate of hate crimes. Such speedy arrivals with limited official guidance from local authorities could trigger violent reactions, as the new arrivals are seen as a threat to jobs and access to social security benefits, health care, education and housing.
The media and the social networking platforms’ unrestricted 24-hour, seven-days-a-week access for authors and consumers of stories could spread incitement and dangerous stereotyping that fuel anger, resentment and dispossession within society. This can result, in some extreme cases, in violent acts directed toward whom we perceive as different culturally or in terms of religion. Apart from a few cases of serious bodily harm committed against passers-by who look different, most hate crimes were acts of vandalism, verbal intimidation or harassment — all serious enough to instill a sense of insecurity among vulnerable groups.
Party politics, especially in the UK, does not help either. For years, net migration figures dogged the electioneering debates and many parties could be held responsible for indirectly fueling the debate for and against migrants and their contribution to the economy. This resulted in a negative perception of migrants and their role in society in a way that increased their alienation and stereotyping.
Debates on race and faith have also often become a casualty of media reports that have stereotyped Muslims, Jews and others. The subject of anti-semitism within the UK Labour Party is a case in point on how politics can impact society, as no doubt many Jews felt vulnerable as the leaders of the main opposition party traded blows for weeks.
Societies across the world have been witnessing similar increases in racism and hate crime, and the Middle East is no different. Lebanon recorded a rise in violent acts against Syrian refugees after the small Mediterranean country received more than 1.5 million refugees as a result of the Syrian crisis next door.
The cultural and religious mix in Syria is no different to that of Lebanon. The countries have shared a long history and close relations, but attacks were impossible to avoid as some Lebanese felt invaded by so-called foreigners, while others unreasonably blamed the newcomers for all of Lebanon’s political, economic and social ills. Attacks were recorded in remote villages as well as the cities; some municipalities across Lebanon even applied a curfew to limit refugees’ movements in a clear and open abuse of their most basic human rights.
Similar tension has been felt in Germany — a country that has welcomed more than 800,000 migrants as a result of the Syrian crisis. Yes there have been reports of a rise in violent acts related to race and religion, but the majority of the refugees were humanely treated and slowly integrated to become equal citizens; to the envy of a minority of hard-line racist groups that exist in every society.
Racism, religious discrimination and biases based on sexuality must stop. Governmental and non-governmental action plans that are launched every so often fall short of ridding society of such crimes, which impact the vulnerable and weak and drown them in feelings of severe injustice. Any such plans need to go back to basics and work to rid people of their acquired human biases and fear of the other — from their home, then their school, and their workplace.
In the highly connected world that we live in, this is not easy to achieve, since local issues become a national problem, then they metamorphose into an international crisis magnified by dishonest or malicious social media accounts awash with inaccurate and biased views.
Parallel to that, economic downturns have been known to throw people into desperation and exacerbate their fears. Economic downturns result in less funding for policing and local initiatives and usually this spills out into a lack of trust and fear of the other. This social alienation leads to hate crimes, racism and discrimination in an ever more globalized world.
Mohamed Chebaro is a British-Lebanese journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering war, terrorism, defense, current affairs and diplomacy. He is also a media consultant and trainer.