Has Islam-bashing tarnished ‘tolerant Britain?’

Remember how Londoners patted themselves on the back in self-congratulation for their tolerance after the bombings in July 2005?

Chris Doyle
Chris Doyle
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Islam is evil. Muslims are scum. Ban Islam and knock down all the mosques. Muslims are “devil’s kids”. Islam is Satanic. Islam reminds one of the third reich. Muslims have been carrying out ‘ethnic cleansing’ against the English. “Islam is organized crime under religious camouflage.”

With apologies to readers but these are just some of the welter of charming online utterances and posts by various United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) candidates for national and local elections in Britain. Their leadership is taking some action against some of these candidates but often slow and indecisive. Does there need to be an inquiry when someone likens Islam to the Nazis or calls Muslims devil’s children? The candidate concerned only got suspended not ejected.

Hitherto such posts could have been dismissed as the rantings of the extremists alongside the vile actions of far right racists of the British National Party (BNP) and the English Defense League (EDL) amplified by media sensationalism.

However, UKIP is a joke that has lost its punch line. It is leading in the polls for the European elections and already has Members of the European Parliament.

But UKIP and the extreme right do not have the monopoly on anti-Islamic slurs. For example, a Conservative party candidate has just resigned after tweeting: “It’s good to be anti-Islam”. The tabloid press has also indulged itself.

And this anti-Muslim discourse is clearly reflected in increased attacks and violence. Reported anti-Muslim hate crimes went up by 65.7% between April 2013 and March 2014 in London according to Metropolitan police figures. Many crimes however, go unreported as many Muslims are fearful about going to the police. The EDL has been in the vanguard of attacks. Pigs’ heads and bacon are often left outside mosques.

The net has been deluged with such comments as well as other racist, homophobic and xenophobic garbage. Cyber utopians, those who see social media as a fabulous liberating democratic tool, ignore just how racist and extreme nationalist groups have also benefited and marketed their toxic views.

Remember how Londoners patted themselves on the back in self-congratulation for their tolerance after the bombings in July 2005? Yet is that about to change?

Chris Doyle

What is worrying is that there has been no counter deluge of outrage from the mainstream political establishment. Imagine for one second if these had been comments about Jews and Christians, if candidates were calling for synagogues, churches and temples to be demolished. There has been criticism but it has been subdued, muffled. The leaders of the main political parties have said precious little about this rise in Islam bashing. Some Eurosceptic Tories tacitly welcome UKIP’s surge in the polls as it pushes their leader ever further from Europe. Other parties enjoy seeing the Tories struggling to maintain their support. Fighting the language of hate has been relegated second behind domestic electoral politics.

British Muslims are apprehensive. There is no legal recourse open to challenge these dreadful statements because there are no laws dealing with for verbal attacks based on faith. Anti-Islamic hatred (Islamophobia is not a strong enough term) is all too often a Trojan horse for racism.

Not since the immediate weeks following 9/11 have British Muslims felt more under the cosh. The Prime Minister has just announced an inquiry into the Muslim Brotherhood fomenting mass disquiet amongst many Muslims. Former Prime Minister, Tony Blair has once again grandstanded his ‘us and them’ worldview that carelessly elides distinctions between various Islamist groups as if they were all al-Qaeda-in-waiting. The head of the Charity Commission, the neocon, William Shawcross described Islamic extremism as the most ‘deadly problem’ confronting the charity sector. Fellow neocon, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has also launched inquires into a raft of Muslims schools in Birmingham. The manner in which this has been done has once again led to the entire Muslim community feeling stigmatized for the actions of the extremists.

Britain’s reputation

This raises questions about the reputation of Britain as an open, tolerant society. Its far right parties have not been as well supported as those in France or the Netherlands. It was not Britain that banned minarets or the wearing of the veil in public. Remember how Londoners patted themselves on the back in self-congratulation for their tolerance after the bombings in July 2005? Their stoic reactions did contrast positively with the fiery anger in Madrid after the attacks there in 2004.

Yet is this about to change? Is Britain catching-up with countries like Denmark, Holland, Austria and France where far right parties have prospered for years? UKIP is playing the hard-to-get partner in response to overtures from Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen in France. Their dream is that UKIP will join them in one anti-EU anti-immigration far-right bloc, an axis of hatred.

Yet all is not lost. The majority of the British population reject the UKIP line with around 62% seeing it as racist or attractive to racists. British Muslims are climbing the ladder to the top in most professions increasingly engaged in British public life. But UKIP’s popularity, fleeting or not, should not be ignored and its anti-Islamic, xenophobic rhetoric properly shown up for what it is. It is a warning shot both to the Muslim community that for its own sake needs leadership and strategy to move forward and to the political establishment that has still lamentably failed to engage maturely with British Muslims and ethnic minorities. The legitimate public concerns and fears that UKIP has profited from such as the future of the EU and mass immigration must be addressed but shorn of the racist hate-fest that too many of its core membership embrace.


Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has traveled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in April, November, December 2013 and January 2014 including with former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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