22 Nov 2019

New register for Islamophobic and racist incidents created

2:21 pm on 22 November 2019

A newly-formed human rights organisation has created New Zealand's only register for Islamophobic and racist incidents.

Muslim woman working/writing on laptop/typing.

Photo: 123RF

The Muslim-led Foundation Against Islamophobia and Racism - or FAIR - was set up by members of the Muslim community from across New Zealand, with the goal of monitoring and eradicating Islamophobia.

Incidents can now be lodged on the report.islamophobia.co.nz domain, and can be filled out by victims, victims' friends and family, or witnesses.

On the website, users can enter details about the type of attacks, with options such as trolling, verbal assault, and employment discrimination.

It also provides spaces for specific details of other factors to consider, such as whether the victim was wearing any religious clothing or religious markers. The person can also outline whether they need just to report the incident, or whether they need advice, or advocacy assistance.

In the wake of the March attacks, the Human Rights Foundation set up a similar register, but the domain for that register has been down for some time.

Spokesperson for FAIR, Azad Khan, said Islamophobic attacks are still happening, but no one is recording them.

"Someone was in a park, doing their thing, walking their dog. And someone comes up and says: 'Hey, what's your problem? There have been 51 victims, do you want to be the 52nd?'

"There are things like this happening on a day-to-day basis but until we start collecting data, until we get some concrete data, we will not be able to make informed decisions."

Mr Azad said FAIR has looked at models such as Tell MAMA in the UK, and others in Australia and the US, where data collection on the issue has worked.

"If we copied a similar model in New Zealand, it would definitely work," he said. "Data is important, data is crucial. Until you have data, you can't make an informed decision."

Senior Research Fellow at the University of Waikato, Dr Arama Rata, criticised the authorities for not taking the lead on such an initiative.

"The Crown has failed its duty to protect Muslim and other communities of colour from hate crime," she said. "Systematically collecting hate crime data is the very least the Crown could be doing.

"It should not have taken the loss of 51 lives, and it should not be left to members of the affected community to undertake this work, unsupported. However, its encouraging to know these crucial data will soon exist."

A way for people to come forward

The register would provide victims for a way to come forward, which Mr Khan said, has not been there. A number of victims don't report the incidents, for a variety of reasons.

"Sometimes it could be because people have a fear for authority. Some of these people come from migrant countries where authorities have not treated them well.

"Another [reason] is community backlash - sometimes people are worried about what the community is going to say, [and carrying] the stigma of being a victim of a hate crime or an Islamophobic attack.

"Another one could be a simple thing like revenge: if someone goes and reports [an incident], and the word gets out and the perpetrator finds out, then there's the fear of the backlash too."

The register would facilitate victims to report anonymously.

In terms of getting the data to other authorities who can then do something with it, Mr Azad said that is still to be worked out.

"This is just the beginning - we're right at step one. There's a whole lot of work to be done: data will be one thing, but then how do you use that information to your advantage?

"We'll look at ways at sharing that information with the different government agencies - sit down with them, come up with plans.

"There is a whole lot of work ahead of us, and I guess this is setting up an organisation, setting up a portal, and collecting data is the first step in the process."

The creation of the organisation has been supported by other members of the Muslim community.

The President of the New Zealand Muslims Association, Ikhlaq Kashkari, said "this is an important project and a step in the right direction to expose and combat Islamophobia in New Zealand."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs