A Pro Palestine Protester Speaks with a Police Officer. A Pro Palestine Protester Speaks with a Police Officer. Photo: Alisdare Hickson on Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Racism is growing in Britain, encouraged by a bankrupt government and its allies – and we must fight it in every way we can, argues Shabbir Lakha

Tory donor Frank Hester’s alleged racist comments – saying Diane Abbott MP should ‘be shot’ and made him ‘want to hate all black women’ – have caused a crisis for the government. Initially delayed in describing Hester’s words as racist and refusing to return his £10m donation, Sunak has provoked a backlash even from sections of the Tory party.

Sunak’s defence, that Hester has apologised and his remorse should be accepted as proof that he isn’t racist, is ironic when the same prime minister made a speech outside Downing Street blanketly calling hundreds of thousands of Palestine protesters racist and hatemongers. The tiny number of people who have been arrested for placards or chants that the police have determined are racially aggravated in some way (often for as little as using the word ‘intifada’) have not been extended the same privilege of apologising to prove their innocence.

The Tories’ simultaneous defence of Hester and attack on Palestine protesters reveal some fundamental truths about how racism functions.

Racism is systemic

An obviously racist man donating millions of pounds to the ruling party, loaning his helicopter to the prime minister and in turn running contracts in the NHS and having access to those making the policies that govern our daily lives, shows that racism is systemically entrenched.

Kwame Ture once said, ‘If a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem. If he’s got the power to lynch me, that’s my problem. Racism is not a question of attitude; it’s a question of power. Racism gets its power from capitalism.’

In the same week as this row, Michael Gove made a statement in parliament redefining ‘extremism’ and targeted several Muslim organisations. The British government’s full support, including arms shipments, for Israel’s genocide against the Palestinians is not considered extremist. The dehumanisation of Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims and the branding of Palestine solidarity as hateful has resulted in a massive rise in Islamophobic attacks – but it is not considered extremist or racist.

The Metropolitan Police has in its ranks officers who have killed or been implicated in the deaths of hundreds of black people, and have been branded repeatedly as institutionally racist. But apparently it is an appropriate body to determine what chants, placards or slogans on Palestine protests are racist.

This isn’t just a question of hypocrisy but an example of the conveyor belt of racist ideas that originate from the state and permeate into society. These include David Cameron described universities as ‘hotbeds of Islamic extremism’ in 2015, Michael Gove’s role in the widely-debunked Trojan Horse scandal, and most recently Suella Braverman’s attack on Palestine protesters in November which directly mobilised far-right and fascist groups who carried out hate crimes.

Islamophobia is state-driven

It’s also not simply a question of rhetoric but of the policies being enacted. The government is actively seeking to deport vulnerable black and brown refugees to Rwanda, actively letting those trying to get here to drown in the Channel. Prevent, the government’s counter-terrorism legislation, has been proven to target the Muslim community since its inception. Whatever its legal limitations so far, Gove’s new definition of extremism will widen the scope of Prevent with even more of a focus on Muslims.

Since October there has been a spike in referrals to Prevent, particularly of children in schools. In one example, there was a leaked audio recording earlier in the year of a young Muslim boy being interrogated by a Prevent officer, unaccompanied by an adult, and asked why he cared about Palestine over other human rights issues in the world. There has also been an increase in reports of Muslims facing discrimination at work and of having their social media accounts monitored by workplaces.

Fighting racism

Racism manifests in a number of ways and affects a number of minority communities. But it should be clear that it is propagated by the ruling class and driven downwards in society to serve their agenda: be it creating a justification for imperialist wars in the Middle East, or to divide working-class communities and divert anger away from their failings.

Rishi Sunak’s secondary defence to the Frank Hester row he’s embroiled in, is to point to himself being an ethnic minority and the diversity of his cabinet. The Tories’ attacks on the Palestine movement have been made under the guise of defending Jewish people.

We cannot allow them to use the language of anti-racism to obfuscate the real nature of racism. We must be clear that it is the state driving racism, and therefore that it is right now primarily pushing Islamophobia. We must be united in defending the Palestine movement, the Muslim organisations and communities under attack and take the fight to the Tories.

Before you go

Counterfire is growing faster than ever before

We need to raise £20,000 as we are having to expand operations. We are moving to a bigger, better central office, upping our print run and distribution, buying a new printer, new computers and employing more staff.

Please give generously.

Shabbir Lakha

Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.

Tagged under: