Muslim women protestors

Lindsey German: Muslims have been subjected to racist accusations and demands that they desist from extremism – but most Muslims in this country do not support Isis or anything like it

Blame the Muslims. If all else fails in the defence of a foreign policy which is so bankrupt that even the envoy for peace in the Middle East Tony Blair has gone quiet, then start talking about the domestic threat, and the need for increased surveillance of Muslims.

The hideous beheading of James Foley, apparently by a British member of Isis, and the government claim that hundreds of British citizens are fighting in Syria and now Iraq, has brought a whole new raft of demands. Ranging from the Nigel Farage cry that their passports should be confiscated to the return of control orders which effectively mean house arrest for individuals, these are all more about political posturing than dealing with the problem of Isis.

The government’s Prevent strategy, involving high levels of surveillance and the involvement of mosques and community organisations in controlling and monitoring young Muslims who might be thought to be under the influence of ‘extremism’ has hardly been a success in its own terms. Indeed if it is true that several hundred young people have left to fight in the Middle east, it suggest that Prevent isn’t preventing the thing it purports to.

Maybe that’s because the whole approach is wrong. Firstly, the problem here isn’t surveillance, of which there is a huge amount in and around Muslim communities. It isn’t the lack of police, where it is now not uncommon (unlike ten years ago) to see a couple of community policemen at the back of a packed meeting.

It isn’t that the security services don’t know anything about some of the people who decide to take this route. Indeed, the three British men who are supposedly holding the hostages for Isis are almost certainly known to the secret services, as were for example the killers of Lee Rigby.

In Britain as a whole, alongside this remarkably high level of surveillance, there are more anti terror laws and a level of security in public buildings which is far in excess of anything from the 1970s and 80s where the IRA had a much more extensive bombing campaign. 

It isn’t working. And it isn’t working because it does not address the political problems that have helped feed the terrorist groups. When al Qaeda attacked the twin towers on 9/11 their grievances were as follows: they wanted an end to US troops on Saudi soil, the end of sanctions on Iraq, and justice for the Palestinians.

If these were grievances 13 years ago, how much more have they become so after disastrous interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, the treatment of the Palestinians and the death and destruction wrought on the people of the Middle East?

These grievances have over the years mobilised huge numbers of people on mass protests and actions in opposition to them. Most recently, the huge demos in support of Gaza show people from across all communities, races and religions united in opposition to government foreign policy.

If any one group of people in this country had the right to feel aggrieved over the lack of government recognition of these movements, it is the Muslim community. It has turned out on protests in huge numbers to try to bring about change by peaceful protest. It has done so not because it is any more ‘extremist’ than anyone else, but because it doesn’t like government policy.

It has been ignored, demonised and attacked, subject to racist accusations and demands that it desist from extremism. Most Muslims in this country do not support Isis or anything like it, and are as horrified as anyone else by the sights of James Foley being beheaded.

But they should not have to apologise for opposing their government, just as millions of non-Muslims do.

Nor should they be singled out for the level of abuse, racism and discrimination that they are facing. The latest developments with Isis will lead to more of a crackdown on young people in the Muslim community, but will also raise the general level of racism and Islamophobia in Britain and elsewhere in Europe. 

We are locked in a vicious circle where wars and invasions create opposition and in some cases terrorism, both in the countries that are attacked or here in Britain. Then the opposition is denounced as terrorism, there are more crackdowns and this creates more people who support the terrorists.

The everyday Islamophobia (which is by far the most extensive level of racism in Europe) again helps alienate young Muslims especially. Governments then demand more of the same and continue the exact policies that caused the trouble in the first place.

The importance of involving Muslims in campaigns that can challenge the deadly stream of wars and interventions, while at the same time rejecting the Isis reactionaries, has never been greater.

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.