Islamophobia in Ireland has significantly increased over the past year while incidences of racism towards ethnic minorities continue to rise across the State, NGOs and anti-racism monitoring groups have warned.
The latest statistics from the Immigrant Council of Ireland reveal that reports of Islamophobia rose by 35 per cent in 2015 after the council began reaching out to Ireland’s Muslim community for more information on racist abuse.
“People from Muslim communities had already been contacting us about racism, but they weren’t identifying religion as the reason. It was more skin colour or being an immigrant,” said Teresa Buczkowska from the Immigrant Council of Ireland. “Then last year something changed. People began contacting us with incidences based on the fact they were Muslims and religion started playing a bigger role in harassment and abuse.”
Despite the introduction of a Garda pulse system last December to record instances of racism and hate crime, Ms Buczkowska says many people are uncomfortable contacting the gardaí and lack confidence in the Irish justice system.
The latest data from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) recorded 103 incidences of racism in Ireland in 2015. These statistics are considerably lower than findings from the iReport human rights monitoring tool which tracks racist incidents in Ireland and found 148 reports of racism from January to June, 2015, dropping slightly from the 182 reports recorded from June to December, 2014.
Shane O’Curry, director of European Network Against Racism Ireland (Enar) – the national network of anti-racism civil society organizations – says the drop in reports of hate crime is not an accurate reflection of the prevalence of racism in Irish society, adding that more than three-quarters of racist incidences go unreported.
“We suspect that’s because there was a certain amount of fatigue among people from ethnic minority backgrounds in reporting,” said Mr O’Curry. “People think there’s no point, that they won’t be believed and in some cases they will be treated inappropriately.”
Enar’s iReport system of tracking racist and hate crime is “only picking up a drop in the ocean compared to real incidences”, says Mr O’Curry, adding that only 20 per cent of the incidences recorded by Enar will also be reported to an Garda Síochána. “Ireland is out of step with the rest of the western world in not having hate crime legislation. We need a criminal justice system fit for the diverse and multicultural reality that we have today.”
Mr O’Curry also claimed Islamophobic language, and references to Muslims as terrorists, bomb makers and members of (ISIL), is becoming increasingly apparent in Irish society, adding much of the rhetoric used oversees towards Islam is being “recycled in Ireland. It’s as if the language of islamophobia is international but being spoken with an Irish accent.”
Dr James Carr, a sociologist at the University of Limerick, reported a rise in anti-Muslim hostility and discrimination earlier this year, with Muslim women twice as likely to experience anti-Muslim abuse compared to Muslim men. Dr Carr found that one-in-three Muslim men and women experience racist hostility and that Muslim women are often targeted for wearing the hijab, niqab and other items of female clothing.
Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri, Imam of the Al-Mustafa Islamic Centre in Blanchardstown, says any fear or phobia towards members of Ireland’s Muslim community is due to “ignorance”.
“People need to understand that the vast majority of Muslims have nothing to do with ISIL,” said Dr Umar Al-Qadri. “We are victims of these extremists as well. Muslims are not enemies, they are allies in the fight against terrorism.”
Dr Umar Al-Qadri agrees that many Muslim women suffer high levels of racism due to their dress. “On public transport, if a woman is wearing a hijab, someone will shout at her, ‘are you being oppressed?’ I spoke to one lady studying in Dublin who says because of her hijab she feels people judge her on her looks rather than her educational experience.”
He says most Muslims have grown accustomed to being referred to as terrorists and members of extremist groups, but warns that an acceptance of this terminology can lead to deeper societal divides.
“We get used to these names but it should not happen because it’s the first step towards extremism and marginalizing a community. These people – those responsible for racist attacks – do not represent the overwhelming majority in Ireland. But, if we don’t address it, this problem will become worse.”