The response to the terror attack in Germany on 20 February suggests that anti-Muslim bigotry is rife in Britain today. And in building the resistance to this, progressives must firmly counter racist propaganda with the truth.
On 20 February, a far-right terrorist murdered nine people in Germany, all of whom came from immigrant families. Many people believe this was an Islamophobic attack, especially given the “deeply racist” content of the suspect’s manifesto.
Labour leadership contender Rebecca Long-Bailey responded to the attack by tweeting:
My thoughts and solidarity to all those affected in Hanau by the far-right terrorist attack.
The rise in Islamophobia and racism across Europe is a critical concern. It must be met with political leaders willing to defeat it wherever it arises.https://t.co/IgP8FsEH5C
— Rebecca Long-Bailey (@RLong_Bailey) February 20, 2020
But Islamophobes soon filled the thread responding to her tweet, seeking to explain away the far-right terror attack as a logical response to ‘Muslim/Islamic terror attacks‘, ‘Muslim grooming gangs‘, or even just Islam in general.
Britain’s Islamophobia crisis
The UK’s ruling Conservative Party has becoming increasingly pally with fascists in recent years – especially under Boris Johnson. The party’s also experiencing an Islamophobia crisis which it seems to be ignoring. And in the past, Johnson’s own words have reportedly contributed to a rise in anti-Muslim attacks. Statistics have also shown that 56% of Conservative Party members believe “Islam is a threat to the British way of life”.
Progressives need to fight back with both facts and solidarity with Muslim communities. And below are two specific areas where we need to challenge the far-right narrative.
1) Terror propaganda
Islamist-related terrorism usually has its roots in Western ally Saudi Arabia’s extreme state ideology – Wahhabism. Many Muslim leaders and scholars have long stressed that the ideology of Saudi Arabia (a country of around 30 million people – not all of whom are Wahhabis) doesn’t represent the world’s Muslim community as a whole (which has around 1.8 billion adherents). But as the New Statesman writes, “the narrowness of the Wahhabi vision is a fertile soil in which extremism can flourish”; and it’s no coincidence that both al-Qaeda and Daesh (Isis/Isil) follow this ideology.
As The Canary previously detailed, Western governments have long propped up the dictators with the strongest links to such terror groups. Western weapons have also consistently ended up with these groups – sometimes intentionally. Decades of destructive Western foreign policy (including constant regime-change efforts), meanwhile, have helped to fuel wars of terror in which millions of people die or flee. This is the important context within which any discussion of terrorism must take place.
Islamophobes tend to have little awareness or interest in the important facts above. But we must ensure they can’t ignore them.
2) Grooming propaganda
Far-right groups have long been seeking to foster ethnic and religious tensions by ‘infiltrating children’s charities’ and pushing an “anti-Islam agenda”. The Commission for Countering Extremism, meanwhile, has stressed that such groups have tried to portray themselves as ‘protectors of women and children’; and they “deliberately distort the truth to persuade their audience to adopt discriminatory and hateful attitudes”.
In particular, the far right has sought to portray ‘grooming gangs’ and Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) as a largely Muslim or ‘Asian’ phenomenon. But as one social worker wrote at Novara Media in 2019:
regardless of the race of child sex offenders (the overwhelming majority of whom are white men), it is estimated that only one in eight cases of child sexual abuse is ever identified by authorities, and in 2016 the Council on Social Work Education reported that 75% of survivors had never told anyone about their abuse. As such, even if it were helpful to draw conclusions on the race of offenders at a national scale, it is impossible to do so. The conflation of CSE with ‘Asian grooming gangs’ is racist, but it is also a dangerous red herring that skews the issue, drains attention and resources away from where they are needed, and completely undermines the scale and impact of CSE and young people’s experiences of it.
Rotherham in particular has been a focus for far-right groups seeking to weaponise horrific CSE cases. And as the Rotherham Muslim Community Forum’s Shakoor Adalat said:
children are being sexually abused in a wide range of institutions – Churches, public schools , the BBC, the Football Association. One in four people across the country have been abused as children… it is endemic. … Islamophobia is just a smokescreen to hide the lack of investment which would change their situation.
The rise of Britain’s far right in recent years has coincided with brutal Conservative-led austerity. Accordingly, some people seek to blame minority groups like Muslims for the country’s crumbling infrastructure and public services. But that’s perhaps the easiest lie to address. Because a decade of Tory rule has starved the NHS while severely cutting public funding for education, social welfare, the justice system, councils and housing.
Fascists will keep trying to convince Britain that minority groups like the Muslim community are somehow responsible for the sorry state the country’s in today. But they’re wrong on so many levels. So alongside active solidarity with the groups these racists seek to demonise, progressives urgently need to load their resistance with the truth.
Featured image via Labour Party/YouTube
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