Saturday, June 15, 2024
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Increasing Islamophobia in the UK

Asad Mirza

Last week two unrelated incidents once again showed how easy it is, to form a narrative against Islam in the UK. Just 20 years back described as a ‘multicultural and ethnic hotpot’ under the Labour-era. The UK is once again witnessing the increasing calls against Islamophobia under the Conservative rule.

The massive rallies against Israel’s bombardment of Gaza after 7 October, last year, were responsible for increasing threats of Islamophobia in the UK. According to TellMAMA, a public service organisation which measures and monitors anti-Muslim incidents, reported on 23 February of a more than threefold increase in the number of anti-Muslim incidents between 7 October 2023 and 7 February, compared with the same period the year before, with Muslim women disproportionately targeted. Similarly, there was a six-fold rise in anti-Semitic incidents seen in the last three months of 2023 compared with the equivalent period the year before, with a spike immediately after Hamas’s attack and before Israel had launched its military response.

What is shocking, though, is that instead of sending a clear message that these forms of racism are completely unacceptable, some politicians have sought to make political capital out of the week’s events by further stoking tensions.

Particularly, the Conservative politicians have intervened in the most immature manner. The former home secretary Suella Braverman claimed that “the Islamists, the extremists and the anti-Semites are in charge” of Britain. The former prime minister Liz Truss took part in an interview with the disgraced Trump strategist Steve Bannon and failed to challenge him when he called the far-right activist Tommy Robinson “a hero”. Lee Anderson MP, deputy chair of the Conservative party until he resigned last month, said on GB News that the Labour London mayor, Sadiq Khan, had “given the capital away (to) Islamists”, whom he referred to as Khan’s “mates”.

But first came the remarks by House of Commons speaker and Labour leader Keir Starmer, which led to an explosion of Islamophobic hatred against Muslims protesting against Israel's war on Gaza

We would not be subverting the context by saying that over the last few months a troubling narrative has steadily been gathering strength in British politics. This narrative asserts that radical Islamists are taking over the streets in Britain, using muscle to intimidate politicians, and are destroying the authority of the parliament. As a result, democracy itself is under threat.

Further, the narrative that British Muslims are corrupting the British political system went viral and gained strength in just 24 hours. This shows the already prejudiced mindset of the most British politicians.

Robert Jenrick, a former cabinet minister, speaking in the Commons on 22 February, said that Britain has “allowed our streets to be dominated by Islamist extremists”. He spoke of “a pattern of Islamist extremists intimidating those they disagree with, backed by the prospect of violence". Penny Mordaunt, leader of the House of Commons, proclaimed that she “could not agree more”.

On 22 February, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak fanned the flames, warning that “we should never let extremists intimidate us into changing the way in which parliament works”. However, neither Sunak nor Jenrick took the trouble to substantiate their statements.

Contextually, this latest episode arose in the wake of Wednesday’s (21 February) chaotic events at Westminster after the Scottish National Party (SNP) tabled a Commons motion supporting a ceasefire in Gaza. And instead of being framed in a Constitutional narrative, it was used to unleash Islamophobic rhetoric.

The motion was acutely embarrassing for Labour leader Keir Starmer, many of whose MPs are deeply opposed to his support for the war. This explains why both the SNP and the Conservatives tore into Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle when he over-ruled the advice of his Commons clerks and defied parliamentary convention to allow a Labour Party amendment which got Starmer off the hook.

Amidst furious calls for him to quit, Speaker Hoyle went on the record to say that when making his controversial decision he had been “very, very concerned” about the safety of MPs, their families and members of their staff. He also made clear that he had been influenced in his decision-making by Starmer’s own concern about threats to his MPs.

The Speaker, however, did not explain exactly who it was that threatened the safety of Labour MPs - but obviously the finger was pointed towards Muslims.

No evidence has been provided, so far, neither from the Speaker, who set the media storm in motion, nor from Starmer, who briefed him. Apparently the speaker didn’t asked Starmer’s for evidence supporting the allegations. If such threats have been made, as Starmer and Speaker Hoyle claim, then law should be allowed to investigate them.

Meanwhile, mainstream British politicians are claiming that British Muslims are subverting British democracy and are a security threat. In the backdrop of this serious and inflammatory claim, the Speaker of the House of Commons and the leader of the Labour Party, both have a duty to substantiate their claims.

Majorly, the Conservative party members, ostensibly keeping an eye on the upcoming parliamentary elections, orchestrated this Islamophobic campaign. Having lost the faith of most voters after the abysmal performance of the British economy post-Brexit, they don’t have any major plank to mount their electoral campaign, added by divisions within the Conservative ranks.

In this backdrop creating a storm over Islamophobia helps them the most, to influence the voters. Despite the fact that under various Conservatives-led governments in the last six years, the Prevent strategy has been allowed to fail along the wayside, as the Conservatives would love to raise the Islamophobic bogey to influence the voters.

But the recent episode has also exposed the Labour leadership, which continues to support the Israeli aggression in Palestine. In this backdrop the LibDems might rise again from the ashes and could become a major partner of any future government, taking over later this year.

(Asad Mirza is a Delhi-based senior political and international affairs commentator.)

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