I love a trip to London – just walking through Hyde Park, going out for dinner or splashing out on an indulgent shopping spree (because hey student loan’s coming in soon so why not?). But, one aspect I loathe is the underground. Yes, it’s an amazing network that can take you almost anywhere you need to go in London, but the crammed conditions where I’m forced into the armpit of a sweaty teen or where I’m almost sitting on the lap of a fellow commuter to avoid falling over is an embarrassment I could do without. So, when I go to the capital I try to avoid the tube, or at least try to arrange my schedule around rush hour.
However, this week I wasn’t so lucky and as I boarded the train at Green Park I resigned myself to the awkwardness of another journey where I’d come into close personal contact with another complete stranger. Yet, as I desperately tried to avoid eye contact with the man whose chest I was pressed against, I noticed an advert on the side of the carriage. It was a simple hashtag stating “We Stand Together” – a campaign that I had never heard about. Curiosity got the better of me, so as soon as I was released from the rather intimate position I’d inadvertently found myself in, I looked it up. It was a collaborative advert by the UK police forces to stand up to racism, discrimination and hatred that has been increasing on British public transport.
Now call me crazy, but I was under the impression that the medieval mind-set of racism and religious persecution had no place in a modern free-thinking country. But recent statistics released by British Transport Police (BTP) reveal that the number of hate crimes committed on the transport network has doubled over the past five years, whilst faith linked attacks have over quadrupled since 2013. Evidence indicates the Brexit vote and the impact of terrorist attacks on home soil has been a major contribution to the spike in hatred, with the Muslim community being the target of much of the religious hate crime experienced.
The question is, what can be done? The surge in crime on British transport corresponds with a decline in BTP officers, with their headcount being the lowest level since 2012 despite a clear need for their intervention. The campaign to increase awareness and support for the #WeStandTogether is a positive move in the right direction, but with limited police resources perhaps it is time members of the public took their own initiative and worked out a way to bring about solidarity ourselves. In the context of rising tensions and increased hatred, it is the responsibility of all of us to stand up to Islamophobia and combat injustices where we see them. Illustrator Shirine Yener has used psychological methods to create a guide on how to respond to Islamophobia when it occurs in front of you.
Here are some of her top tips:
1. Engage the victim in conversation – it doesn’t matter what you talk about – the weather, the traffic or what you’re having for dinner – just distract them from the hatred by showing friendship.
2. Keep eye contact – this kind of support lets them know that you are on their side and not everyone has the same views as their attacker
3. Ignore the attacker – by acknowledging the perpetrator, you could give them a voice for their cause and the situation could easily escalate into physical violence. However, the absence of a response and the refusal to legitimise their opinion is more likely to push them away.
4. Stay close – Stay with the victim until they are in a position of safety.
5. Report – It doesn’t matter if physical violence has occurred or whether the attack is over, the incident should always be reported to prevent the situation occurring again.
The worst thing we should face on our morning commutes is dodgy train times and crowded compartments. The fact that people are frequently facing verbal assaults is appalling. It’s an experience nobody should have to go through and I hope by following the advice of BTP and anti-Islamophobia organisations we can all be brave enough to stand up to prejudice when we see it.