Muslimahs and Anti-Muslim Racism in Ireland

One, if not the most important task of a sociological researcher is to communicate what s/he has uncovered and to share itwith as many people as is possible, especially those who have contributed to the study. To shine some light on the experiences of those who have taken part in the research. 

Thanks to a doctoral scholarship from the Irish Research Council, for almost three years I have been researching with Muslim people in Ireland and I feel it is my job to share their voices, their stories. The following paragraphs give a brief insight into the experiences of anti-Muslim racism in Ireland that were shared with me. In this case, the experiences of hostility as lived by Muslim sisters.

The lack of official data on anti-Muslim racism in many EU countries is a real problem. Few states record anti-Muslim hate crime and this seriously impedes the ability for effective action to be taken to ameliorate this phenomenon. Even where it is recorded questions remain in terms of consistency. Ireland, like the vast majority of EU States, fails to record anti-Muslim racism. Therefore the findings uncovered during the course of my research break new ground in our understanding of this phenomenon in the Irish context. The first phase of this study comprised of a survey of Muslim men and women and commenced by asking all those who took part if they had experienced some form of hostility in the period from January 2010. The response was stark. Of the 323 men and women who took part, over one-in-three (36%) of all survey participants felt they had been targeted on the basis of being identified as Muslim. The manner in which this hostility manifested varied. Participants reported physical assaults (22%) ranging from being struck, having hijabs forcibly removed, to being pushed, spat at; threatened or harassed (20%). The predominant form of hostility to be experienced was that of verbal assault (81%). The verbal abuse meted out to the participants frequently made direct reference to the contemporary stereotyped Muslim identity.
This is a very gendered, racialised identity which impacts disproportionately on Muslim women. Analysis of survey findings revealed that Muslim women (44%) reported higher levels of anti-Muslim hostility than Muslim men (28%) . Thus demonstrating that, in the Irish context, ones’ gender has real implications in terms of being targeted for anti-Muslim hostility. The following quote encapsulates both the verbal and physical abuse experienced by some Muslimahs in Ireland: “Been called ‘filthy Arab’, hijab pulled, drenched with beer Tuesday August 2010…Empty can thrown at me from moving car while yelling ‘F-ing terrorist’”. (Arabic Muslimah, Cork)
Taunts such as ‘terrorist’, ‘suicide bomber’, ‘Taliban’ are characteristic of the ‘Othered’ identity of Muslimness in Ireland. While some of these characterisations are deployed in a similar manner across the sexes, others are peculiar to women: “at the Luas station an older man shouted “she has a bomb in her bag, she has a bomb in her bag” because I was wearing (burqa)” (Arabian Muslimah)
There are also differences for example in the perceived commodification of Muslim women in that while Muslim men are called ‘bin Laden’, Muslimahs are referred to as ‘bin Laden’s wife’. As Ghadir recalls, there is a perception that Muslim women need to be save from their men: “they think that like everyone that wears a scarf is oppressed…Oh look at the poor woman she’s depressed because she’s wearing a headscarf”. Despite the temporal, cultural and political complexity of veiling practices, the racialised symbolism of Muslim women being oppressed is a powerful theme in the comments made participants in this study: “you get the same questions you know the women are put down are you is your husband domineering and you know this stuff” (Jada, Irish Muslim Muslimah). This perception of being oppressed is met with frustration; as succinctly made clear by Sara: “Yeah, you no longer care. You are like: yeah I’m oppressed!!” (Laughter). The role of religious identifiability is made clear in these comments.
Indeed, without wishing to diminish other aspects of identity, it is important to underscore the role religious identifiability played in the participants’ experiences of anti-Muslim hostility. Of all identity characteristics to be cited by participants, the overriding trait indicated as being a factor in experiences of anti-Muslim racism was religious identity (81%), far above skin colour, cultural identity etc. While the vast majority of participants noted that their religious identity played some part in their being singled out for anti-Muslim hostility, there was a disparity across the sexes. Less than half of Muslim men that took part in the survey stated that they were “identifiably Muslim” compared to the vast majority of Muslim women. The importance of visual identifiability, especially that of the hijab has been noted in previous research , and this holds in experiences of Muslimahs and anti-Muslim racism in Ireland.

The above short paragraphs are just a snapshot into the experiences that have been shared during the course of my research. They reveal the distinct presence of a form of racism that clearly targets Muslim identifiers. This is not to argue for a hierarchy of ‘racisms’ but it is meant to underscore that EU Member States need to take concerted action to address anti-Muslim racism. The first step is effective data collection of this phenomenon. Reliable data can build a platform from which policies can be created to ameliorate the experiences of Muslim men and women. Moreover, effective data can identify trends such as where and when anti-Muslim racism occurs, revealing the gendered character of this phenomenon in the process, clearly evident in the findings above. Although short, the evidence presented above is already more than most EU states have on this phenomenon. This has to change if human rights are to be afforded to all Europeans.

Wrote by : James Carl : a reacher and lecturer in Limerick university .