We need to stand shoulder to shoulder with Muslim communities under attack
There is a growing anxiety among Muslims, says Chris Nineham, and a sense of being ever further marginalised and demonised.
In 2014, in the so-called Trojan Horse affair, it was alleged that extremists had tried to take over several schools in Birmingham to advance radical interpretations of Islam.
In March 2015, a series of official investigations reported that the claims were groundless.
'One incident apart, no evidence of extremism or radicalisation was found by any of the inquiries in any of the schools involved. Neither was there any evidence of a sustained plot, nor of significant problems in other parts of the country.'
So all those headlines, all those news reports, all those condemnations from politicians and so many opinions from ‘experts’ in law and order, education and social services, were based on speculation and prejudice.
This reveals the extent of the problem. Islamophobic assumptions have become normal in many core British institutions.
The British establishment instinctively resorts to divide and rule tactics at times of social crisis. The current round of scapegoating migrants and muslims is clearly linked to anxieties amongst the elites about a loss of legitimacy. But there are a series of other circumstances that have contributed to this dangerous spread of Islamophobia.
Firstly, Islamophobia has become the acceptable face of racism. It can pass off as cultural commentary or liberal critique. Politicians across the spectrum and all sorts of professionals, journalists, commentators and experts have bought into the central idea that there is something inherently backward about Islam.
Secondly, it is tightly linked to the disasters of British foreign policy. From the beginning of the 'war on terror', anti-Muslim rhetoric has been used to try and create more support for unpopular foreign interventions.
One result was a massive increase in police harassment of Muslims. Stop and searches under anti-terror legislation rose twenty times between 2001 and 2008, for example. 1,000 Muslims were detained without charge under anti-terror legislation.
Now the chaos and bitterness caused by the wars on Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and beyond, is being explained as a product of Islamic extremism. Last week Defence Secretary Philip Hammond called those who attempt to understand the rise of Isis or terrorist incidents partly as products of these devastating interventions as “apologists” for terrorism.
Worse still, some of the tactics used against Muslim countries are being brought home and deployed against domestic Muslim communities. Muslim areas are under increased surveillance, mosques are being infiltrated, individuals are being harassed, interrogated and forced to become informers.
The results are disastrous. There is a growing sense of anxiety in Muslim communities, a sense of being further marginalised and demonised.
How to respond
It is important that we build the widest possible resistance to Islamophobia. Mobilising in the streets is crucial. Demonstrations like the fantastic mobilisation in Newcastle two weeks ago against the Pegida bigots are an essential component of any campaign. The impressive turn out at the Newcastle Unites demonstration – the biggest anti-racist mobilisation in the North East since the 1930s – shows that large constituencies can be brought together to defend the Muslim community. On 21 March 2015, over 15,000 marched in London on the Stand Up to Racism, Say No to Islamophobia, Say No to Anti-Semitism demonstration.
But it is also crucial to break the silence and win the argument that Islamophobia exists and that it is racism.
Muslims are discriminated against at multiple levels. According to the Office of National Statistics, unemployment rates for Muslims are higher than those for people from any other religion, for both men and women. A survey sponsored by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust found that 80 per cent of British Muslims had experienced discrimination, up from 45 per cent in the late 1990s.
Anti-Muslim hate-crimes are now more prevalent than crimes against blacks and Asians broadly.
We need to expose for what it is, the racist bigotry that sees something uniquely reactionary about Islam and Muslims.
Finally we have to make sure everyone understands that the current mayhem in the Middle East is more than anything the product of the wars and occupations that successive British governments have been involved in. This understanding is essential to unravel the twisted narrative that blames Muslims for their own predicament.
This means, as well as standing shoulder to shoulder with the Muslim communities, that we have to step up the campaign against further wars and demand a complete break with our government’s policy of serial interventions.