The awards were handed out at the Islamic Centre for England, in West London - although not surprisingly, none of the winners stepped up to receive them.

Perhaps predictably, British National Party leader Nick Griffin won the Most Islamophobic British politician award. This was most notably due to his "Muslim or free/fair/democratic - but not both" round of speeches during the recent UK local elections.

Ariel Sharon and Jacques Chirac share the award for Most Islamophobic International Politician and, of course, the overall Islamophobe of the year was announced as George Bush.

The Telegraph newspaper claimed the Islamophobic media award, and Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee was deemed most Islamophobic Media Personality, primarily for a piece on race relations (though it is debatable whether her offending quote, referring to an "insane and unassuagable cult", was actually directed at the entire Muslim population).

Media usage

Massoud Shadjareh, director of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, which organised the awards, said: "It is with great sadness that we reveal this year's winners. Sadly the competition was extremely tough and we see no signs of this abating in the year to come."

Jacque Chirac shares award of
most Islamophobe politician

Islamophobia has recently made it on to the list of British media-friendly phrases, but has such publicity done much to address the issue?

"The media has picked up the term, but using that term doesn't eradicate the problem," says Samar Mashadi, director of Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism (Fair).

"Muslims are so open to discrimination and don't have legal protection against this." 

Britain's Race Relations Act protects on the basis of race, but not on the grounds of faith.

Fair's log of Islamophobic reports is a long list of pork-hurling, verbal and physical attacks, arson and anthrax hoaxes in Islamic centres, and discrimination cases in the work place.

Understanding

But, conversely, Fair also reports an increase in conversions to Islam: "A lot more people are taking an interest to find out what Islam is and what Muslims are," says Mashadi.

"A lot more people are taking an interest to find out what Islam is and what Muslims are...A lot of people are converting, understanding the true, peaceful nature of the religion"

Samar Mashadi,
director of Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism (Fair)

"A lot of people are converting, understanding the true, peaceful nature of the religion."

Anas Altikriti, president of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), says that British society has proved to be "anything but Islamophobic".

Altikriti thinks the emergent anti-war movement can be thanked for this. "It is a time when Muslims and non-Muslims have stood together with the same objective - and now friendships have continued, spanned across those divides of culture and religion.”

Looking for indicators of increased tolerance or increased Islamophobia in Britain, it seems that there are examples of both.

But that might not be the case beyond street level.

Metropolitan police

The IHRC this year gave a special award for outstanding achievement in promoting Islamophobia to London's Metropolitan Police Service "for, amongst other things, Muslim-profiling suspects, disproportionately targeting Muslims for stops and searches under terrorism laws and equating Muslim festivals with increased threats of terrorism".

London's police is named for
promoting Islamophobia

Home Office figures showed that in 2002-03 there were 32,100 searches overall under the Terrorism Act, and lawyers and groups representing the Islamic community say that Muslims were the subject of a hugely disproportionate number of these.

Such groups routinely hear of British Muslims with no prior dealings with the first arm of the law, now being stopped in the streets, having their homes searched or being pulled over by airport security.

A recent ICM poll shows that many Muslims see the "war against terrorism" as a war against Islam and believe that British anti-terrorist laws are being used unfairly against the Muslim community.

Moreover, the government approach to tackling Islamophobia has also come under fire. A few weeks ago, secret plans to win the hearts and minds of young British Muslims were leaked to The Sunday Times newspaper.

Screening process

The project, code-named Contest, was aimed at the 10,000 young Muslims whom officials thought might be sympathetic to al-Qaida. Plans involved screening foreign imams prior to allowing entry to Britain while giving a government seal of approval and support to selected moderate clerics in the UK.

Other proposals of the project were that the government might fund moderate Islamic newspapers, television and radio stations, promote young Muslim "ambassadors" to push an Islam-friendly image of Britain and also possibly amend the Race Relations Act to make religious discrimination an offence.

Muslim leaders criticise this plan as window-dressing, and point out that it does not address the roots of Muslim disillusion, such as education and employment opportunities and social exclusion.

Shadjareh at the IHCR, adds to this another fundamental concern: "Who will decide who is moderate and who is not?"

At the time of the leak, the Home Office told newspapers: "The government is taking its relationship with the Muslim community very seriously."

With reports, following the recent local election, of how hard the loss of the Muslim vote hit New Labour, the government may have to get a lot more serious about this relationship.