After the terrorist attack in Christchurch and now the attacks on Birmingham mosques, Shabbir Lakha finds that it's leading politicians and the media fuelling Islamophobia
On Wednesday night, less than a week after the horrific terrorist attack in Christchurch, five mosques in Birmingham were attacked, at least one of which had its windows smashed by a sledgehammer. This series of attacks comes in the wake of a sharp increase in Islamophobic hate crimes since Christchurch.
In the last week, a Muslim man was attacked with a blunt weapon outside a mosque in East London, a Muslim taxi driver in Rochdale was abused with reference to Christchurch, the Imam of the mosque in Finsbury Park that faced a terrorist attack on 2017 was abused on a bus and later spat at by a cyclist, a 19-year-old southern European man was stabbed “due to his ethnic appearance” in Surrey which police believe was a far-right “terrorist event”, and now the Birmingham mosque attacks.
There is a growing climate of fear among Muslims in Western countries since the terrorist attack in New Zealand. The attack was well organised and the attacker wrote a 73-page manifesto in which he explained in detail his motivations and actions. His conspiracy theories of invasion by Muslim immigrants can be found plainly in the words of people like Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins who are regularly given a platform in the mainstream media – but also in thinly veiled comments made by leading politicians.
The terrorist said he took inspiration from Anders Breivik who orchestrated a similar terrorist attack on young socialists in Oslo in 2011, and praised Donald Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity”. It’s unsurprising that his words were incredibly similar to those of the terrorist that attacked a synagogue in Pittsburgh just a few months ago, who blamed Jews for apparently funding a Muslim invasion and was incited by Trump’s anti-Soros and anti-Muslim rhetoric.
When the motivations for such barbaric and targeted attacks are in plain sight, is it any surprise that Muslims in Britain are scared? It’s why I have zero time for the empty words of our world leaders after Christchurch.
Donald Trump condemning the Christchurch terrorist after hiring Steve Bannon as his right hand man, who imposed a Muslim Ban as one of his first actions as President, who told stories at his rallies of a General killing Muslim terrorists with bullets dipped in pig's blood and who refused to condemn neo-Nazis that killed Heather Heyer, is beyond disingenuous.
And it’s not that different over here. After the Christchurch attack, Theresa May said:
“There can be no place in our societies for the vile ideology that drives and incites hatred and fear.”
The same Theresa May, who as Home Secretary sent “Go Home” vans around the country, who authored the Hostile Environment, who expanded and toughened up counter-terrorism legislation which has overwhelmingly targeted the Muslim community, who joined other Conservative politicians in the now thoroughly disproved Birmingham Trojan-Horse affair. The list goes on.
The Conservative Party have just suspended 25 people after years of complaints and stacks of evidence of overtly Islamophobic, antisemitic and anti-black racism throughout Tory ranks. But how could they truly take racism seriously without expelling half their MPs and large parts of their membership?
Boris Johnson in 2005 said that “Islam is the problem” and called Islamophobia a “natural reaction”, and last year compared Muslim women that wear the burka to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”. None of this, nor the reams of racist comments he’s made over the years, were a barrier to him being appointed Foreign Secretary, and then not being sacked regardless of what he said.
And who can forget Zac Goldsmith’s openly Islamophobic 2016 London Mayoral campaign? The one where he wrote in the Daily Mail that if people voted for Sadiq Khan, they would be giving the keys to London to “friends of terrorists” next to a picture of a blown up bus from 7/7 – something David Cameron then repeated from the Despatch box in the House of Commons. Goldsmith piped up again earlier this week to condemn the Labour Party for adopting the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims’ definition of Islamophobia, which he said was written by supporters of Islamism and compared anti-Islamophobia organisation MEND to the BNP.
So while some politicians and commentators, forced to talk about Islamophobia after Christchurch, have decided to explain Islamophobia and far right extremism as a product of social media, the truth is that it comes straight from the top. Yes, the likes of Tommy Robinson and groups like Britain First have used social media to push their hate-filled message, but it remains without a doubt that without the same ideas being floated by mainstream politicians (or in the case of Donald Trump, directly retweeting them), without the media and institutions like the Oxford Union giving platforms to far right extremists, and without the right wing press consistently producing targeted and often false stories about Muslims, immigrants and ethnic minorities, these ideas would not have nearly as much purchase as they do, with or without social media.
Let’s not forget people like Rupert Murdoch, owner of a large chunk of the world’s media, who have blamed all Muslims for terrorism, like in 2015 when he said “Maybe most Moslems peaceful [sic], but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible”.
And let’s not discount the role of people like Douglas Murray, the associate director of the Henry Jackson Society, who has said that Islamophobia isn’t real, that “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board” and that the solution to terrorism is “less Islam” and “less Muslims”, who is among the architects of Britain’s counterterrorism strategy and whose think tanks produces reports that are used and cited by the government.
Across Europe, leaders have proposed and supported policies banning mosques, minarets, burkas and burkinis; they have defended policies letting refugees drown in the Mediterranean or rot in squalid camps in Turkey; they have justified their wars of aggression in Muslim countries by promoting a ‘clash of civilisations’ rhetoric and by painting terrorism as a Muslim problem.
So I, for one, will not be taking the empty words and crocodile tears of these leaders seriously. Combating Islamophobia necessarily means taking on the state and the media. It can only be done by a movement that brings together Muslim communities, anti-racist activists and the breadth of the labour movement with a bold, coordinated and explicit campaign against Islamophobia, and against the wars and austerity that are used to drive it by the establishment and the far right.
Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.
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