“You have to be so cautious. I have boys and they are 12…sometimes they will say something, like, about a bomber jacket and I say ‘don’t call it that’ and they are like ‘but mum it’s called a bomber jacket’ and I’m like ‘call it something else’
It might almost be funny if it wasn’t so sad. Of all the findings in a new Scottish Government report that image of the bomber jacket sticks in the mind. With one poignantly simple description a young mother gives a vivid glimpse of what it is like to be a Scottish Muslim in an age of fear and suspicion.
Muslim women and young people were questioned about their experiences – at work, at school and in the community – and the findings should provide food for thought for the next wave of Scottish politicians, whoever gets into power next week.
The report – Experiences of Muslims Living in Scotland – was commissioned to provide evidence for government policy-making at a time when discrimination against Muslims in Scotland seemed to be growing. The aim was to explore how racism and religious intolerance affects the daily lives of Muslims in Scotland.
There are few surprises in the report and it’s not all bad news. There are around 75,000 Muslims in Scotland, roughly 1.5% of the population, mostly living in urban areas of the central belt. Compared with Muslims in England, Scottish Muslims describe a greater sense of belonging and national pride – generally they feel Scottish and want to be part of the community. Confounding media stereotypes, the report found no sign of growing religious extremism. And no-one used the word Islamophobia.
But researchers Sarah Kidd and Lynne Jamieson also found evidence of racial and religions discrimination against Muslims. In Scotland Muslims are more likely to be unemployed, particularly if they are women, and language is still often a social barrier for the older generation. Young Muslims are often torn between the desire to join the crowd and loyalty to their family and faith. And that sense of belonging is conditional – many Muslims were aware ‘they might be seen as outsiders’.
Countering the stereotype that Muslims are reluctant to integrate, the report finds “evidence to suggest Muslims…feel excluded from fully identifying with Britain. This is an important finding that requires further examination in a Scottish context.”
Once again the role of the media is highlighted with Muslim women in particular blaming the media for linking religion with terrorism. “They were acutely aware of negative stereotyping of Muslims which link Islam and terrorism in global circulation and stressed the local impact of these stereotypes.”
The main conclusion of the report – available only from the Scottish Parliament social research website – is that further research is needed to establish the real identity and diversity of Muslim communities in Scotland. In the present climate – it is really not hard to imagine how a 12 year old Muslim boy talking about a bomber jacket could trigger a security alert – this report provides a valuable first step forward.