A leading Birmingham criminologist was bombarded with vicious hate mail and violent threats just days after publishing his research into online Islamophobia. One internet troll even accused Imran Awan, of Birmingham City University, of being worse than members of the barbaric jihadist group Islamic State.
Mr Awan said he was shocked by the sheer number of “vitriolic hate-filled” messages he received after an online discussion about his detailed research on anti-Muslim abuse on the internet. He revealed how he received anonymous threats and how one far-right website had even put him “under official investigation” – labelling him a “troublemaker”.
Mr Awan said: “My research attempted to show how hate groups on the internet, especially Twitter, were using this space to intimidate, cause fear and make direct threats against Muslim communities. That has particularly been the case since the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich last year.
“So it’s quite ironic that I became a victim of this type of abuse after I discussed my findings on a popular internet forum earlier this month.”
Soldier Lee Rigby was killed in the street in south-east London in 2013 by two Islamic extremists, who have since been convicted.
The study had shown that the majority of incidents of Muslim hate crime reported to the organisation Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) were online.
Before the Woolwich incident last year there were an average of 28 anti-Muslim hate crimes per month but in May, when Rigby was murdered, that number soared to 109.
Between May 2013 and February 2014, there were 734 reported cases of anti-Islamic abuse – and of these 599 were incidents of online abuse and threats; the others involved violence, threats and assaults.
A further breakdown of the statistics showed these tended to be mainly from male perpetrators, and were marginally more likely to be directed at women.
“I soon became a target in numerous online forums and anti-Muslim hate blogs,” said Mr Awan. “They attempted to demonise what I had to say and, in some cases, threaten me with violence. Most of those forums were taken down as soon as I reported them.
“It has become easy to indulge in racist hate-crimes online, and many people take advantage of the anonymity to do so. I examined anti-Muslim hate on social media sites such as Twitter and found that the demonisation and dehumanisation of Muslim communities is becoming increasingly commonplace.”
The research paper, titled ‘You’ve Got Hatemail’ involved the monitoring of the use of three separate hashtags #Muslim, #Islam and #Woolwich. Mr Awan said: “The most common reappearing phrases were racist insults or remarks referring to terrorism and grooming.”
Imran Awan is the Deputy Director of the Centre for Applied Criminology at Birmingham City University, and Director of the first-ever Ethnic Minority Research Network in Criminology.