no islamophobia Anti-racist demonstration, London, February 2017. Photo: Flickr/Jim Aindow

Prejudice against Muslims is high across Europe, but in Britain there are grounds for optimism thanks to a mass movement against Islamophobia

The Financial Times published a survey which shows that Islamphobic attitudes remain high across Europe. The relatively better figures for Britain (which still show a big problem, of course) cannot be explained by objective social, structural or political factors.

The media is no better than elsewhere in Europe. The Tory government and its predecessors are just as prepared to deploy anti-Muslim racism. Indeed, the Prevent strategy in Britain is a deeply embedded mechanism. Britain too has had terror attacks.

To explain the difference I think you have to look to the development of radical movements and politics in the last decade and a half.

Not only was there a mass anti-war movement. It also very deliberately made one of its core objectives opposing the Islamophobia necessitated by the war on terror.

That meant a conscious effort to involve politically engaged Muslim communities and organisations. And it encouraged Britain’s largest union to pioneer a community membership scheme in a large Muslim area of east London, where the Unite general secretary also spoke at a mosque following vicious Islamophobic scaremongering in the press.

The efforts of the anti-war and anti-racist movements (and others, such as over Palestine) have been sustained, including refusing to yield ground on the “hard questions” where they are in a minority.

That all fed into the tide that brought Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour leadership, from where he made a speech unlike any other major political leader in Europe following the Manchester arena atrocity during the election campaign.

The breadth of unity and reach of these efforts – noticeably in the Muslim communities – is set to be displayed again when Donald Trump comes to Britain in 10 weeks’ time.

No one is complacent. But there is no good reason to imagine that Britain is some reactionary hellhole compared with the rest of Europe.

In fact, there are very good grounds for confidence and optimism – and for spreading that to activists elsewhere.


Kevin Ovenden

Kevin Ovenden is a progressive journalist who has followed politics and social movements for 25 years. He is a leading activist in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, led five successful aid convoys to break the siege on Gaza, and was aboard the Mavi Marmara aid ship when Israeli commandoes boarded it killing 10 people in May 2010. He is author of Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth.