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Scotland isn't oasis of tolerance it likes to think it is

Islamophobia report is right: Scotland isn't the oasis of tolerance it likes to think it is
4 min read

Tasnim Nazeer

04 August, 2021
Opinion: If Scotland is to live up to the tolerant ideals it preaches, it must take this Islamophobia report and its recommendations very seriously, writes Tasnim Nazeer.
Glasgow has the highest Muslim population of any city in Scotland [Getty]

Scotland's recent report on Islamophobia is a testament to the fact that we need to do more.

The report, Tackling Islamophobia, was produced by a cross-party group of the Scottish government and reveals the true extent of Islamophobia in the country. Scotland is often viewed as a more progressive, welcoming country than its southern neighbour for example, but as a British Muslim woman living in Scotland for the last 10 years, I am acutely aware of the struggles Muslims like myself must face on a daily basis.

As someone who wears the hijab, I have faced numerous instances of discrimination, and I know many other Muslims in Scotland who have been impacted by Islamophobia on the streets, and in work and school settings. So it came as no surprise to read that the report found over 75 percent of Muslims in Scotland have faced Islamophobia, and that some experience it on a regular basis.

The landmark report was produced by the University of Newcastle's Peter Hopkins and led by Labour Leader Anas Sarwar and a group of Scottish MSPs. It highlights the fact that Islamophobia in Scotland has escalated and calls on all political parties to adopt a "no tolerance" approach to tackling it. The Muslim community in Scotland  - which has been battling Islamophobic abuse for years - would surely have benefitted from such a study years ago.

The first Islamophobic incident I experienced was when I used to live in Loch Lomond and was the only person of colour and hijab-wearing Muslim in the area at the time. When I went to drop off my kids at school, parents in the playground often made remarks under their breath, looked me up and down, and my children were left out of their friends' birthday parties because their parents did not want to associate with Muslims.

We later moved to Glasgow, where the friendlier veneer didn't put a stop to instances of Islamophobia in different scenarios. Once, when I was out with my kids in Glasgow city centre, a verbally abusive man called me a "terrorist" and was banging his fists in the air as if to hit me. Luckily, a passerby intervened and we manage to escape.

It is not just on the street that we experience Islamophobia but also in the workplace. In my capacity as a journalist, I was told by someone in Scottish media that if I wanted to get into broadcasting I should "remove the hijab". I refused to compromise my faith and identity as a visibly Muslim woman and persevered to get to where I am today.

When speaking to Muslim women for a recent investigation into Islamophobia, many told me they were the ones who were reprimanded when they spoke out about abuse in work settings. It is an unacceptable state of affairs, but many Muslim men and women feel they do not have access to equal opportunities when it comes to the world of work and progressing in their careers in Scotland.

Sadly, it is not just Muslims who are targeted by Islamophobic abuse, but also members of other minority communities who are mistaken for Muslims. One Sikh friend told me of how she was abused on her way to the Gurdwara (Sikh temple). She had covered her head with a loose veil and was with her husband, who dons a long beard, when they were mistaken for Muslims.

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I have experienced Islamophobia and discrimination in Scotland since the day I arrived a decade ago. Of course, there are also some very friendly, tolerant and kind people here, but the real problem of anti-Muslim hate that has been left to fester must be addressed.

This report highlights just how many Muslims feel that Islamophobia has worsened, with Glasgow reporting the highest levels. I for one can attest to the severity of hate that we have to live with.

It is imperative that Islamophobia is taken seriously not just in Scotland but across the UK. Scotland needs to ensure that the recommendations are fulfilled, and must not allow hate to further fester if we want to see a Scotland that is a truly tolerant nation. 

Tasnim Nazeer is an award-winning journalist, author, and Universal Peace Federation Ambassador. She has written for Al Jazeera, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, Middle East Eye, CNN, BBC, and others. She was awarded the FIPP the global network of media Rising Stars in Media Award 2018.

Follow her on Twitter: @tasnimnazeer1

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.