The Immigrant Council of Ireland has published findings from a new study last week titled “Islamophobia in Dublin: Experiences and how to respond,” detailing Muslim victim experiences of hostility and discrimination in Ireland.
The aim of the report is to help develop an “understanding of experiences of anti-Muslim hostility and discrimination” in Dublin. The report set out to incorporate the “voices of Muslim individuals and community representatives to identify shared themes of preferred actions and supports in the face of anti-Muslim racism” as well as “identify how the immigrant council can work with Muslim communities to effect change at the social and political level.”
From interviews with 66 Muslim men and women from across Dublin, the report identifies recommendations that are “wide-ranging and will require change in almost every area of official policy not just for lawmakers, but for schools, employers, an Garda síochána and many others including civil society organisations such as the immigrant council.”
Focus group participants shared some of their experiences of anti-Muslim verbal abuse, physical assault, criminal damage to property and graffiti. The report notes that abuse manifests itself in various forms including racist slurs and epithets based on stereotypes of Muslims formed by the association of Islam with terrorism. Participants spoke of the simplistic rendering of Muslims in the Irish media “creating a perception that being Irish and Muslim are mutually exclusive categories” while “others identified the media as the main source of, and means, to propagate homogenising, racialised stereotypes of Muslimness which have real effects on the lives of Muslims in Ireland.”
The reports notes that “feelings of distrust and strong, negative perceptions exist among Muslim communities in Ireland toward most media actors,” though not all media actors.
Participants also expressed “a shared perception” that “various media actors have an agenda when it came to Muslim communities: namely to sell copy without due regard for the consequences of their stories.”
The participants recalled being subjected to anti-Muslim hostility through physical assaults, which primarily occurred in public settings, such as streets or on public transport. The reports notes a “distinct security theme emerging in this study in the manner in which Muslim women, predominantly, are pursued in shops and shopping malls, mainly by security guards but also by shop staff. There was a perception among some participants that Muslim and Roma women are singled out because of their ‘non-Irish’ identity.”
Previous research in Ireland, as revealed by the report, established that Muslim women are more than twice as likely to experience anti-Muslim hostility compared to Muslim men. It was demonstrated that visible signs of being a Muslim, such as the hijab, niqab and other items of female clothing were regularly targeted during experiences of anti-Muslim hostility suffered by females in Ireland. This also led participants to feel that visible aspects of being Muslim were incongruent with being Irish, raising important questions about the position of Muslims in Ireland in 2016.
During the focus groups and discussions, two mosques/prayer rooms were reported to have been targeted with graffiti and missiles using bricks and stones. The report concludes that the intent of such acts of criminality was to send a message that Muslims were not welcome in the area.
Throughout the study, participants reported experiencing discrimination in many facets of their lives, including in and accessing education and employment, using public transport as well as during visits to shops and restaurants. In the case of education, participants reported experiencing discrimination in accessing educational institutions as well as during their time in primary and secondary school education based on their faith.
Within the classroom, young Muslim participants recalled experiences of abuse and exclusion within the educational environment by teachers, lecturers and classmates. These included experiences of verbal abuse from classmates and staff, being discriminated against for wearing the hijab and a failure on the part of staff to address Islamophobic racism within the classroom.
The report notes that “the policy to not have a policy vis-à-vis the ability for young Muslim women to manifest their faith in the school context allows for exclusionary practices to manifest, leaving young Irish Muslim women feeling stunned, disappointed and frustrated.”
Discrimination in accessing and during employment was found to have centred on the religious identity of participants, through religious dress, such as the hijab or by their names. Some of the discriminatory practices against Muslim manifested through comments, sometimes framed as “innocent questions”, as well as discriminatory practices, from managers, colleagues and customers/clients. Drawing on previous research, the reports observes “as with the OSI [open Society Institute] study, the hijab appears repeatedly throughout this study as again the focus of employers’ discriminatory practices. so too does the issue of having a ‘non-Irish’ name with participants noting how some change their names to sound more Irish so that they can find employment.”
In other facets of their lives, such as public transport and visits to shops and restaurants, participants revealed how discrimination manifested itself in the form of poor or no service provisions. Participants also spoke of being profiled by public transport security staff on the basis of their race and religion. A growing theme during the focus groups was how women were a major target of anti-Muslim abuse and discriminatory practices and this was no different during trips to shops and shopping malls, where they recalled being pursued, mainly by security staff and shop staff.
The report notes the “markers of Muslimness, such as the hijab are deemed incongruent with being Irish, raising important questions in terms of what it means to belong in Ireland in 2016.”
The report identifies the emotional cost of anti-Muslim hostility and discrimination noting the reactions of victims as shock, frustration, anger and depression.
It also draw attention to the wider implications of anti-Muslim hostility and discrimination noting that the “stigmatisation of young Muslims in Ireland feeds into the narrative propagated by groups such as Daesh who wish to attract people to their cause” and that this vulnerability “can be challenged by addressing experiences of anti-Muslim hostility and discrimination.”
The study also revealed that there was also a perception among Muslim communities that the police service in Ireland treated “their own” (White, Irish and Catholic) better than those who were regarded as “others” i.e. Muslims. The consequences of such perceptions is the erosion of trust between security services and Muslim communities, leaving Muslims feeling isolated and alienated and unable to turn to the police to protect them when they suffer acts of anti-Muslim abuse.
Participants also revealed a sense of frustration for being held responsible for acts of violence committed abroad by groups such as “Daesh” in the name of their faith. It was also reported that due to high levels of anti-Muslim hysteria in Irish society, young generations of Irish Muslims were suffering from an identity crises.
Despite the level of hostility and discrimination faced by Muslims in Dublin, participants felt a deep bond with Ireland and the city of Dublin. The report notes “experiences of good practice in different spheres of social interaction, namely: when accessing employment; in employment; and in education. The examples discussed in this report are united in that there is a recognition of and positive engagement with diversity. Ihis positive engagement manifested in this research through for example the ability to manifest and practice one’s faith in a welcoming environment. In each instance, the insights shared by participants provide simple yet incredibly important examples of how employers and educational institutions can create an inclusive environment in the work/education context.”
Among recommendations proposed in the report are: Develop public media campaigns that increase the visibility of Muslim men and women in Ireland; Raise awareness among Muslim communities as to where and how people can report experiences of anti-Muslim hostility and discrimination; media training for Muslim communities to equip them with the “tools and the knowhow of how to respond and engage with media outlets”; psycho-social support; developing a good practice guide for employers that focuses “on the recognition and facilitation of the needs of Muslim employees set to a legal requirement context”; awareness raising campaigns to “challenge discrimination in the workspace”; work with the media to “encourage a greater recognition of Muslim diversity”; developing training programmes for An Garda Síochána to tackle racial and religious profiling by the police; tackling selective advantage in the education sector by tackling “legislative permission to discriminate on the basis of faith/no-faith in the context of school enrolment policies; working with civil society organisations to actively lobby government and all political parties for the implementation of hate crime legislation; and and supporting initiatives that are “inclusive of the diversity of Muslims and Islam in Dublin and Ireland”.
The report, authored by Dr James Carr, can be read here.