Chris Nineham reports from an inspiring conference in Wakefield organised to take action against Islamophobia
‘I am at boiling point.’ Majid Khan was speaking for many at the conference when he described his rage at the growing number of attacks against Muslims and the anti-Muslim racism entrenched in local and national institutions.
Khan was one of the organisers of an inspiring conference against Islamophobia in Wakefield in Yorkshire to mark Islamophobia Awareness Month. It brought together a wide range of delegates, activists, academics, politicians and religious leaders to discuss the threat to Muslims.
Local MP Imran Hussein and chair Kauser Jan spelt out the scale of the problem. Even according to police figures, the number of recorded Islamophobic incidents has increased in the last few years by a factor of seven. More than half of religion-related hate crimes have been anti-Muslim.
As Imran Hussein pointed out spikes in incidents have been directly related to comments made by politicians, in particular our prime minister, Boris Johnson.
As speaker after speaker pointed out, the rot starts at the top, and the British establishment is deeply invested in anti-Muslim hatred.
There were many testimonies of how embedded Islamophobia is in the institutions. Local councils discriminate against Muslims in their housing policies. Incredibly, it is only just now, through the campaigning of some of the activists at the conference, that Wakefield is likely to get its first Muslim councillor.
A local social worker spoke movingly in one of the workshops of how she had been completely ignored and insulted when she raised concerns about malpractice in Calderdale Council. No one she complained to was prepared to take her seriously because she is a Muslim.
A number of people spoke of the way that the NHS discriminates against Muslims in its employment practices and its services for patients. Trade unionists spoke of rampant discrimination in other workplaces and even of some racism amongst trade union reps.
This of course against the background of routine police harassment and scapegoating and incomprehension in the media.
There was however a fighting spirit of solidarity in this very well attended conference. The audience was very mixed in terms of race and religion, but everyone present agreed that Islamophobia was one of the most serious forms of racism in British society, that its existence was barely recognised in the mainstream and that it has to be fought.
Speakers who pointed out the link between Islamophobia and the West’s foreign wars were particularly well received. In Richard Burgon’s words, ‘Islamophobia flows directly from the West’s foreign policy over the last two decades.’
People from a huge range of different campaigns and trade unions spoke of big efforts being made to combat racism and of how the different campaigns could and should link together. Many spoke of the importance of overcoming differences and division in the movement and building a united resistance to take on racism and war that would also have to address the structural, social issues and inequalities that help to create the conditions for racism.
There was strong support at the conference too for specific campaigns around Islamophobia, and in particular for a grassroots protest campaign against the problem of racism at Yorkshire Cricket Club.
This was a brilliant conference that generated real enthusiasm and hope. As one attendee put it:
‘There is a real urge to bring the resistance together. Islamophobia is under reported in the MSM and needs to brought into the limelight. Congratulations to the organisers. The resistance is taking shape. And now, it’s time to act’.
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Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
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