Figures produced this month by the Home Office point to a sharp increase in the number of reported incidents of hate crime in England and Wales in 2014/15 compared with the previous year. Significantly, incidents of faith based hate crime were markedly up. In London, Islamaphobic hate crime was up by 70% and anti-Semitic hate crime up by 50%. These are worrying figures.
However, they are set against figures from the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW) which shows a “statistically significant” fall in hate crime (28%) between 2007-09 and 2012-15. Whilst recognising regional disparities and taking into account some peaks and troughs, this suggests the long term trend is down.
As we all know, statistics can tell different stories, and rarely give us the whole picture. So what should we draw from the Home Offices figures? What are the implications for those of us interested in the quality of relationships between people of different faiths, beliefs and cultures?
The first is to recognise anxiety. One of the reasons given for the striking increase in reported incidents is that more people are reporting. This may be because of improvements to policing. It may also be that there is growing anxiety stemming from feelings of vulnerability at a time of sustained media focus on violent extremism, migration from the Arab world and the escalation of violence in the Middle East. We need to recognise and legitimise this anxiety. It is there.
The second is to be aware of the complexities the statistics begin to convey. Better and more nuanced recording is helping to shine a stronger light on the problems (on regional disparities, on the particular targeting of Islamaphobic hate crime towards women, and on the spectrum of crime form cyberbullying to extreme violence). Greater sophistication in analysing crime data can aid our efforts to understand what is happening in our societies, and thereby inform our responses.
Third, we would do well to remember Benjamin Disraeli’s three kinds of lies – ‘lies, damned lies, and statistics’. The critical task at hand is to strengthen human interaction across the faith, belief and cultural that block understanding of difference, undermine cohesion and create the divisions the crime statistics imply. Unless we and others continue to do this we run the risk that the picture painted by the Home Office figures will get worse, and that different groups will interpret the statistics to further entrench divisive positions.
With this in mind it is heartening that during the same month that the Home Office released its report on hate crime, Nadiya Hussain won TV’s much watched ‘Bake Off’. Whilst levels of anxiety about our safety are no doubt rising in the face of the complex and conflict riven world we live in, there are also stories that celebrate the richness of our diversity. So I’ll leave you with a final statistic to chew on. The UK has the second highest rating in Europe (after France) of positive attitudes towards Muslims and Jews. Now that’s something to celebrate.