There is no place for hate crime in this country,” said UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd on Sunday, after announcing, last month, a 1 million pound fund to protect the places of worship of minorities in the country. Rudd spoke of the attack on a mosque in Finsbury Park, London, and assured the people of Britain that perpetrators of such attacks will meet “the full force of the law”.
In reaching out to reassure its minorities after a spate of hate crimes, Britain has displayed how a mature, multicultural democracy can navigate the faultlines that threaten to cleave society amid terrorism and the rise of bigotry.
Ever since Brexit, it is clear that there is a growing parochial sentiment in the UK. In the last year, the increasing incidence of terror attacks — on the UK Parliament, a suicide bombing in Manchester and the attack on London Bridge — have been accompanied by a rise in attacks on minorities. In London, for example, the victims of religious and racist hate crimes increased by nearly 20 per cent in 2016-17 over the previous year.
Add the fact that the legitimacy of the Theresa May government is severely compromised after her unexpectedly poor showing in the general elections earlier this year, and there is every ingredient for the party in power to attempt to exploit people’s insecurities for political gain.
The government and ruling party could have ratcheted up the rhetoric against Islamic terrorism and appealed to fear to shore up support. Or they could have maintained a studied silence on the growth in hate crimes and have senior leaders deliver platitudes and homilies on the need to maintain law and order. Both these tactics have been employed, across the pond, by Donald Trump — who did not win the popular vote in last year’s US election. Instead, the Conservative Party-led government chose to take the higher road.
What stands out most about Rudd’s statement, and the policy decision that accompanied it, is the forthrightness of institutional response. The British government frontally acknowledged that hate crimes are on the rise and addressed the victims, often marginalised to begin with. One million pounds is not a large enough sum to assure the safety of the many minority institutions in the country. However, it does send an important signal: That in troubled times, the British government stands with its citizens, especially Muslims and other minorities, and is willing to call the bigotry they face by its name, and tackle it.