Tag Archives: Islamophobia

London: A Question of Character

I’m genuinely concerned.

Tomorrow London may vote in Zac Goldsmith, endorsing his racist, scurrilous campaign. Like so many others, I used to like him. I respected his independence and his environmental campaigning. But the fact that he has allowed his campaign to be so debased has become a matter of character.

And character shows when the chips are down. Yes, he was behind in the polls, but the decision to go negative like this (and, worse, double down) shows that at best he’s weak and at worst, he agrees.

But the question now is, what’s London’s character?

Polls are meaningless after the General Election. They consistently show a Khan lead but the fact is, in the privacy of the ballot booth, people may vote for Zac – either as dyed in the wool Conservatives, or because he’s cute, or because the dog whistling has worked.

The only reason that will matter to the Tories (and all political parties) is the latter.

I really don’t care if we elect a labrador with a colander on its head I just don’t want Zac’s politics to win. I desperately don’t want my city to choose that. Even better would be if Khan, who has fought an honest and hopeful campaign (even while disowning Corbyn) wins.

It’s a question of character.

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Measure for measure

CaptureIt’s been interesting to see how the results of a BBC survey of Muslim attitudes has been reported. The BBC headline is that the majority of British Muslims ‘oppose Muhammad cartoons reprisals’. For the Telegraph and the Times among others, the newsworthy information was the fact that 27% of those polled sympathised with the motives behind the attacks. Others followed the BBC headline. The most interesting contribution I have read today is Ian Dunt from politics.co.uk , who deftly highlighted some of the underlying values revealed by the survey – not necessarily limited to those being surveyed:

“It’s difficult to compare the results of the BBC survey on Muslim opinions with the rest of the population, because no-one else is ever asked these questions – but it’s probable Muslims are actually more loyal to the UK than the general public.

Today’s BBC survey found 95% of Muslims are loyal to the country. There are no similar measurements for the general public.” – Ian Dunt

Ian goes further, and in my opinion to the heart of this general line of enquiry:

“The fact these questions are never asked of non-Muslims speaks volumes about the higher standards they are held to and the levels of proof they are required to provide. A terror attack by Muslims, be it by Isis or the lunatics in Paris, is always followed by demands, often in respectable newspapers, for Muslims to publicly distance themselves from them. These demands continue even when Muslim leaders have already done so, suggesting they are motivated by suspicion rather than reason.” – Dunt

And about that 27%….

“However, it is important to disentangle sympathy for motive and sympathy for action. We might sympathise with the motive of a homeless man who steals bread, while condemning the theft itself. Sympathising with the motives behind the attack is different to supporting it.

The background of the survey offers some indication of the context in which these sentiments are expressed. Muslims are afraid. Forty-six per cent said being a Muslim in Britain is difficult due to prejudice against Islam. Thirty-five per cent said most British people did not trust Muslims. Twenty per cent of Muslim women felt unsafe, as did ten per cent of Muslim men.

If these levels of discomfort and insecurity were expressed by any other ethnic group it would lead the headlines and hand-wringing editorials about where we’d gone wrong. Instead, it sparked headlines about the level of minority sympathy for the motives behind the Charlie Hebdo attack. That in itself speaks to the intellectual environment in which Muslims are forced to operate. The abiding message is that they refuse to integrate and that their culture is incompatible with western society. They are a problem to be solved.” – Dunt

This is the rather febrile atmosphere in which Cathy Newman saw fit to lie about being “ushered” out of a mosque. Why? And in which Grace Dent refers to the girls who left to join ISIS as “cool headed, elegantly pulled together, determined young women”, mocking in particular the grieving and bewildered parents who made a TV appeal clutching their girls’ teddy bears. Are they wrong? Yes.  Worryingly, inexplicably misguided? Oh yes. Are they still children? Yes. An excellent riposte to that is over at Media Diversified: “The Denial of Childhood to Children of Colour“.

I don’t have the answers, but I know that this atmosphere doesn’t help. And the disingenous pleas for the Muslim community to somehow defeat the nihilistic, warped ideology of ISIS by themselves, as if the horrors of that group are visited on “us”, in the “West” alone… as if Muslims aren’t their main victims (in terms of numbers) – aren’t helping. ISIS, like Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab, claim to be Muslims but they’re really power-hungry murderers using their version of Islam as a handy ideological cloak for their bloodstained campaign. They’re a problem for us all.

A few weeks ago I heard an impassioned press conference by a US mother whose three children ran away to join ISIS, the younger two influenced by their older brother.  I cannot remember whether they managed to apprehend them in time, but I do recall that she condemned their actions and wept for her chlidren, for her loss. She also addressed ISIS directly: “Leave our children alone.”

Children.

Their children.

Ours.

 

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Poppy power

Maybe it was the headline that made me feel a bit…..uneasy. “The poppy hijab that defies the extremists: British Muslims urged to wear headscarf as symbol of Remembrance” (Daily Mail).

The designer told the Daily Mail: “Thousands of British Muslims already wear a poppy in November. This is just another way for them to show they remember those who gave their lives for their country.

It’s also a way for ordinary Muslim citizens to take some attention away from extremists who seem to grab the headlines.

This symbol of quiet remembrance is the face of everyday British Islam – not the angry minority who spout hatred and offend everyone.”

I think the impulse behind it is admirable and that the designer has a positive vision.What makes me feel slightly uncomfortable is the whiff of Muslims having to prove their allegiance to Britain, that we’ve seen more and more as “Islamic State” continues its toxic and violent campaign. True, the extremists all too often grab the headlines and it’s not easy for the moderate majority to be heard.

And I suppose, Remembrance Day is as close as Britain comes to a uniting national narrative. I love Remembrance Day, the solemnity, the knowledge that so many, from around the world (especially the Commonwealth), fought alongside each other for the society that we enjoy today. But there is a coercive element to the poppy wearing campaign every year and the vilification of those who choose not to, such as newsreaders Jon Snow and Charlene White. Charlene White explains her decision beautifully.

But there is sometimes an undercurrent that unless you have a stake in that fight, that you don’t belong. And all too often, it’s ethnic minorities who are both very visible and carry a burden of proof for their citizenship and belonging. Muslim women are among the most visible, and often the victim of Islamophobic attacks. If they want to wear the poppy hijab, more power to them. But we don’t have the right to make assumptions about the beliefs and values of those who don’t. They shouldn’t have to “perform citizenship” to belong. We ought to extend them the benefit of the doubt that they aren’t pro-extremism simply because they don’t refute it in the way that makes the majority happy.

I suppose the poppy hijab makes me slightly uncomfortable because it’s more about us than about the women wearing it. And it’s more about what’s going on today than what happened in the war.

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