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Malia Bouattia

UK politicians are emboldening the nation's Islamophobes

Tommy Robinson, far right activist and former leader of the English Defence League [AFP]

Date of publication: 1 November, 2018

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Comment: Anti-Muslim attitudes roam freely and confidently in today's Britain, writes Malia Bouattia.
Islamophobia Awareness Month (IAM) is upon us once more, and sadly it comes with new figures which highlight that the conditions of Muslims is getting worse in the UK.

According to government data, over 8,300 incidents of hate crime in England and Wales between April 2017 and March 2018 were motivated by religion.

It may come as no surprise that over half of the abuse recorded, was directed towards Muslims or those perceived to be Muslim. This represents a 40 percent hike in religious hate crime.

Furthermore, hate crime overall has risen by 17 percent over the year, and of the more than 94,000 cases recorded, 75 percent were race-related. Given the racialisation of Muslims, this places an entire community and those who are perceived to belong to it, within two highly targeted categories.

The general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain responded to the recent data, stating that "No longer can the government sit back and watch as the far-right rises, Islamophobia is mainstreamed and vulnerable Muslim communities are attacked."

The reality is, the daily onslaught on Muslims in headlines, trade unions, academic reports and personal accounts, predates the report by far. Not only has the government sat back and watched this happen, it has also been an active participant in perpetuating Islamophobia.

When the likes of Home Secretary Sajid Javid tweets comments that homogenise an entire group, he is dog-whistling to the far-right.

The Home Office - in its usual attempts to downplay the rise of the very racism which it largely peddles through its policies - has 'suggested' that the alarming rise in numbers could be due to their improved monitoring of hate crime.

Over half of the abuse recorded was directed towards Muslims

This is particularly disingenuous, given that their own research demonstrates that following terror attacks like those in Manchester and London, anti-Muslim abuse tends to rise because racists feel emboldened by the national rhetoric that blames the entire Muslim community and Islam for the atrocities.

Let's not forget, for example, the attack on Muslims outside Finsbury Park mosque by far-right inspired Darren Osborne, who attempted to mow down worshipers in his van.

The incident led to the death of Makram Ali and left a dozen people injured. Osborne's suicide note indicated he was 'taking revenge' for terrorism, apparently on any random Muslim he could find. The message is clear: All Muslims are the same, they are all dangerous, and should all be punished.

Read more: How do white Muslims experience Islamophobia?

In fact, since the attack, the mosque has received hate-filled letters with deeply Islamophobic content. One threateningly announced: "There are thousands of other Darren Osbornes and it's just a matter of time," further illustrating that while one man may have received due punishment, anti-Muslim views are still roaming freely and confidently.

Another letter stated that the perpetrator's actions were "just the beginning, we will kill you all".

The chief executive of the Muslim Welfare House (an extension of Finsbury Park Mosque), Toufik Kacimi, said that the June attack had traumatised the community and left many too afraid to leave their homes.

This abusive harassment of the Mosque only serves to confirm the fears of local mosque-goers - as well as the wider Muslim community - that they have good reason to be worried of such crimes happening again.

In the court proceedings following the attack, it became clear that material shared by Tommy Robinson and far right groups had served as motivation for Darren Osborne who, in the words of the Judge was said to have held an "ideology of hate towards Muslims".

The very people inspiring such horrific acts can today be seen gaining rising popularity and wealth. As Tommy Robinson (Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) was released on bail after facing charges of being in contempt of court, thousands rallied and cheered him on, with many waving the UKIP flag outside the Old Bailey in London.

The Guardian reported that a former assistant to Robinson stated that since his arrest, he has had a "massive payday".

The popularity of his hateful ideologies has reached US shores, too. Congress members have invited him to speak in Washington where, during the tour it, is estimated he could make up to $1.3 million in donations.

Just a few weeks ago, the DFLA (Democratic Football Lads Alliance) also marched confidently in London against "returning jihadists", "thousands of AWOL migrants", "rape gangs and groomers", and "veterans treated like traitors".

Over 1,500 people attended, many were chanting "Whose streets? Our streets!" The demonstration was a horrifying display of the rise of the far right in the UK, complete with sieg heiling and Nazi paraphernalia.

But Islamophobia is not just the purview of far right groups and isolated racists; the right wing establishment also plays its part.

The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill is yet another institutionalised form of anti-Muslim oppression which will make travel, education and work more difficult for so many. The proposals include arrest for visiting certain 'high risk' - read, 'Muslim majority' - countries, or viewing sensitive online content. This legitimises and strengthens a culture of suspicion towards Muslims and - by extension - all racialised people.

In fact, it's this very climate of fear, stoked by politicians and media outlets, and institutionalised through laws and harmful police practices, that lay the foundation for the rise of more radical street-fighting thugs.

The government has 'suggested' that the alarming rise in numbers could be due to their improved monitoring of hate crime

Our country's institutions normalise racism towards Muslims, and mark them out as dangerous and separate from society. They whip up a sense of danger and fear towards an entire community.

It is then, considerably easier for Robinson and his clique to mobilise to 'fight radicalisation' and target Muslims across the UK. The government does it also, but Robinson promises to do it better, and more rapidly.

Mohammed Kozbar, chairman of Finsbury Park Mosque summarised the current situation for Muslims, when I asked him whether he felt that the attack on the mosque was an isolated incident, or symptomatic of wider problems across UK institutions:

"We have seen the misconception about our religion in the media and how they systematically try to normalise it in the eyes of the British public, even by some of the politicians for political gain and tactics. And this, no doubt, made Islamophobia worse and leads to many nasty attacks on institutions like ours or even individuals - especially Muslim women who are the most vulnerable and easy targets."

The ease with which attacks on legal rights, free speech, or assumptions of innocence by the state have been accepted because they were first carried out against Muslim communities has been frightening, and is a further reminder of the deeply ingrained Islamophobia across society.

IAM is a time to reassess, a time to realise that things are actually getting worse despite the misguided idea that hate crimes and racism are something of the past.

But it is also a time to pledge to take action and fight back. Together, we can celebrate Islam and reiterate our right to practice our religion freely. We must also name our oppressors, call out the institutions that target us, and organise alongside others in the student, trade union and anti-racist movements.

Our agency, our strength lies - as always - in numbers, mobilisation and organisation. The far-right and Islamophobia wont stop by themselves. We're the ones who have to make that happen.



Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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