A new study has found the true extent to which veiled women bear the brunt of anti-Muslim abuse in the UK. Led by the University of Leicester it offers a unique insight into the experiences of veiled Muslim women as victims of Islamophobia, and the impact of this victimisation upon their families and wider Muslim communities.
Islamophobia, Victimisation and the Veil is a new book by Irene Zempi and Neil Chakraborti from the University of Leicester.
Irene said: “In a post-9/11 climate, veiled Muslim women are vulnerable to Islamophobic attacks in public because they are easily identifiable as Muslims. As with other forms of hate crime, Islamophobic victimisation falls under the police and local authority ‘radar’. The fact that it is such an under-reported phenomenon and under-researched topic means that victims of Islamophobia often suffer in silence.
“Our research reveals how Islamophobic victimisation is experienced as ‘part and parcel’ of wearing the veil, rather than as isolated ‘one-off’ incidents, and how repeat incidents of supposedly ‘low-level’ forms of hostility such as name-calling, persistent staring and other types of intimidatory behaviour place a potentially huge emotional burden on victims.
“The actual and potential threat of Islamophobic abuse and violence has long-lasting effects for veiled Muslim women, making them afraid to leave their house.”
Victims were quoted as saying: “We’ve been made to feel that we are totally unwanted. It’s like we are a virus to the community.”
“I am walking down the road and people look at me like they’ve seen an alien.”
“Ripping my veil off was a very personal attack. It felt like a sexual attack.”
“Everything is a prison now. That’s what it is, my life has become like a prison; everywhere is a prison. I’m forced to stay in my home so they have made me a prisoner. They are oppressing me.”
Published by Palgrave Macmillan, it is based on research which explores the vulnerability of veiled Muslim women as actual and potential victims to acts of Islamophobic hate and prejudice in public places.
In the light of the nature of and wider harms associated with this form of victimisation, the academic researchers make the case for a more effective approach to engaging with veiled Muslim women as victims of Islamophobia; one which recognises their multiple vulnerabilities and which takes into consideration their distinct cultural and religious needs.
For example, access to female police officers and support workers is an important need for some veiled Muslim women who will not otherwise access these services.
Irene added: “The book offers a unique insight into the gendered dimensions of Islamophobia and the vulnerability of veiled Muslim women as victims of hate and prejudice in public places. Based on cutting-edge empirical research, the findings raise academic, policy and public awareness of the growing problem of Islamophobia.”
Veiled women stay home to avoid stares and race jokes
By Rosemary Bennett
Name calling, racist jokes, hostile staring and being wilfully ignored by staff in shops and cafes are “part and parcel” of wearing the veil in Britain today, according to a new book. The book says harassment and intimidation have become routine for veiled Muslim women and every participant in a study of their experiences said it had become a routine part of leaving the house.
Irene Zempi, academic and author of Islamophobia, Victimisation and the Veil, was so shocked at what she heard during her research that she wore a veil herself in her home city Leicester to see what it felt like. Her study involved interviews with 60 women individually and a further 20 focus group discussions with women.
“They reported abusive comments, staring, being ignored by the person at the till in a shop, being laughed at and racist jokes. From the moment these women left their house, they had the expectation of abuse. It has become the norm,” she said. “They say it is so frequent, there is no point in going to the police because they would be there all the time -it’s so common.”
Some women reported that they had adjusted their lives to avoid going out because they felt so threatened, including getting their mothers to pick children up from school, not going out at night and not leaving the house unaccompanied.
Urged by the women to see for herself what everyday life was like for them, she worse a veil for a month in her spare time. “I was shocked by comments people made, along with the staring, being ignored, laughed at and generally being abused. The moment I put on a veil my life changed. For the entire period, no-one asked me if I needed help when I went into a shop. It was like I wasn’t there,” she said.
The abuse came from the entire community – male, female, young and old. While she felt more intimidated by men who often came very physically close, women used nastier language in general, calling her “disgusting” and “a terrorist”.
While she has not conducted a parallel study on the experiences of women wearing simply a headscarf, Dr Zempi believes there is something particularly provocative to Westerners about women wearing a veil. “I think headscarves are considered more acceptable. Covering the face is seen as a rejection of the western way of doing things and communicating, which is face to face. It is like saying ‘I do not want to communicate with you and I don’t want to integrate’. This is not the case at all,” she said.
She urged people who feel uncomfortable seeing a woman in a veil to politely engage her in conversation, and ask her why she wears it. She also urged Muslim women who wear the veil to report incidents to the police, saying they would be taken very seriously.
“If you keep quiet, nothing is going to change. We need to raise awareness and the Muslim community needs to speak out about this,” she said. “Wearing the veil is nothing about not wanting to integrate. It is simply important because of religious belief and people’s choices need to be respected. In fact British people are famous for doing this.”