Race Crime Figures are a Wake-Up Call

6pm, Thursday 4 August

Following a surge in racist crime, SACC calls on Scottish police forces to tackle the crisis of confidence by building a culture of solidarity instead of suspicion, and by dissociating themselves from the Met's shoot-to-kill policy. SACC is also asking members of the public, whatever their faith, to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Muslims and to make it clear that they will not tolerate racist harassment and Islamophobia.

Figures released recently by the Association of Chief Police Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS) reveal a sharp increase in racist crime in Scotland. This should be a wake-up call to anyone who still believes that our society is coping well with the aftermath of the London bombings. The true situation is probably much worse than the ACPOS figures suggest; reported incidents are just the tip of the iceberg.

Osama Saeed, the Muslim Association of Britain's Scottish spokesperson, says: "People are not coming forward and reporting crimes." Shami Khan, councillor for Edinburgh's Mountcastle ward and a member of the Lothian and Borders Police Board, says: "There are so many cases I can think of where people aren't going to the police because they're frightened - we're talking nearly every day."

Many Muslims and many other people with Muslim friends would echo these observations. People's willingness to report hate crime to the police is collapsing at the very time when effective and well-informed police action is most needed. It's asking too much to expect Muslims to initiate contact with the police against the background of a shoot-to-kill policy in parts of the UK, the targeting of people of Muslim and ethnic minority background for "stop-and-search", and the launch of intelligence operations directed at the Muslim community. Over the last few years, far too many people have been arrested and charged under the Terrorism Act purely on the basis of innocent chains of acquaintance. Law-abiding people from ethnic minorities are wary of contact with police, and have good reason for their fear.

The situation is very serious. Last Friday, a racist gang launched a vicious hammer attack on two Asian men in Leith. The victims escaped serious injury, but the attack could easily have ended in tragedy. The racist murder of Anthony Walker in Liverpool last Friday must also be seen against this background of increasing racist violence, and the growing disregard of the authorities for the communities most in need of protection.

In another incident that has come to the attention of our campaign, a passenger on a Glasgow bus demanded to inspect the bags of two young men of Asian appearance, then forcibly evicted them from the bus when they refused to comply. This assault was applauded by others on the bus. Few people would defend this kind of vigilantism, but it's hard to tackle it firmly while police in London are brazenly picking out young Asians as "stop-and-search" targets on public transport.

Councillor Shami Khan says: "the police have to come out on the streets and talk to us. I suggest they go round shops handing out leaflets saying, 'If you have been harassed, speak to us'".

We agree. The police need to act urgently to re-build a culture of openness, neighbourliness and solidarity. They need to distance themselves from politically-motivated efforts to scapegoat the Muslim community, and they need to avoid distributing publicity that promotes suspicion and fear. Racism dies when it's exposed to daylight. But it's hard to create daylight when the police appear to be working to build a snoopers' culture.

For any of this to be possible, Scottish police forces need to dissociate themselves from the Met's "shoot-to-kill-on-suspicion" policy. It's hard to engage constructively with people who reserve the right to kill you.

Too many commentators are still insisting that Tony Blair has won acclaim for his handling of the terrorism crisis. They are confusing acclaim with the efforts of frightened people to defuse the situation. Blair's first speech following the 7 July bombings directed blame onto the Islamic faith. Since then, the government has conducted a precisely-calibrated spin campaign to 'raise the bar' that defines acceptable levels of Islamophobia. This is simply a protection racket. The government creates race hate, then offers the help of its forces to contain the consequent violence in exchange for silence over the war in Iraq.

The climate of fear is now so pervasive that Dr Zaki Badawi, head of the Muslim College in London, has advised Muslim women who are afraid of an attack to remove their hijabs. It's easy to understand the desperation that has driven Dr Badawi to say this, but his advice is deeply worrying. It risks strengthening the notion that Muslims have something to ashamed of, and leaves women who continue to wear hijabs dangerously exposed and vulnerable to being thought provocative. Muslim women need to be re-assured that they will receive the support and protection of the public when they dress in the way they believe to be right.

In this atmosphere it should be no surprise that Tory defence spokesman Gerald Howarth says that if Muslims "don't like our way of life, there is a simple remedy: go to another country, get out." Mr Howarth also says: "if you don't give allegiance to this country, then leave."

We've got news for Mr Howarth. The British way of life is, among other things, Muslim. Allegiance doesn't mean allegiance to a wrong-headed war. Tens of millions of people of every faith and every race reject that war. SACC supports the right of all of them - whatever their faith, whatever their colour, whatever their citizenship status - to say so, and to organise peacefully to put an end to Britain's part in the occupation of Iraq.

In the mean time, we ask the people of Britain to reject the racism that is being wished upon them, to demand policing that protects them and not just Blair's government, and to act in their daily lives to protect one another form harassment and violence.

Richard Haley (spokesperson for SACC)