Launch of Islamophobia Awareness Month
Dr. Mozammel Haque
The Islamophobia Awareness Month was launched on Friday, 2nd of November, 2012 at London Muslim Centre by prominent British organisations and campaigners to deconstruct and challenge some of the stereotypes about Islam and Muslims. Leading commentators and politicians, including human rights Lawyer Imran Khan, Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, academic and journalist Myriam-Francois-Cerrah as well as UNITE the Union’s Steve Hart addressed themes around Islamophobia.
Human Rights Lawyer
Imran Khan said, “Anti-Muslim attitudes are directed against people believed to be of Muslim faith or generally against Islam as a religion, regardless of whether those affected are actually religious and which branch of Islam they belong to.”
“In more recent years and, particularly since the events of 9/11 and 7/7, attention has very much focussed on Muslims. The agenda set has been one that is distinctly anti-Muslim,” said Khan.
Human Rights lawyer Khan said, “The response to 9/11 and 7/7 by leaders in the US and UK and the ensuing reporting in our media has inexorably led to a rise in anti-Muslim feeling in our society which might be termed “institutionalised discrimination” based upon the institutional practices of the state and its organisations which leads to discriminatory practices against those of the Muslim faith. It is this process of discrimination which is probably the most pernicious in its effect because, by its very nature, it has the sanction of the state and the blessing of society and can be evidenced in a number of ways.
Imran Khan, Human Rights lawyer, was speaking on Islamophobia and the Law. He mentioned, “By the way of example, in 2009/10, 36,928 racially and religiously aggravated offences were recorded by the police in England and Wales. In December 2008 there were 9,975 Muslim prisoners in England and Wales, equivalent to12% of the prison population. This represented a considerable increase on the 5% in 1994 and 8% in 2004 and was more than four times the proportion of professing Muslims at the 2001 census.”
“Ministry of Justice statistics showed ‘stop and account’ powers were used on 2,353,918 occasions in 2006/7, up a quarter from 1,601,196 in 2006/7. There were twice as many stops and searches of Asian people per head of population than of white people. When concerns were raised about this disproportionality Hazel Blears, then a Government Minister, said that British Muslims should accept as a ‘reality’ that people of Islamic appearance are more likely to be stopped and searched by police,” Khan said.
Finally, Human Rights lawyer Khan quoted Anas Altikri, Chief Executive of the Cordoba Foundation, who said: “Islamophobia is a tragic reality and a test to the West’s claim to upholding the most noble of human values. Already, we have failed when allowing laws to pass prohibiting Muslim women from dressing as they wish in France and building their mosques in a particular aesthetic form similarly to other places of worship in Switzerland. It is a phenomenon that will, if allowed to spread unabated, leave none unaffected. It was true in the case of anti-Jewish and anti-Black attacks in the last century, and it will prove true if anti-Muslim sentiments are given free reign to expand today.”
Supt. Robert Reavill
Supt. Robert Reavill, Partnerships, Tower Hamlets Police, said, “We deal with Islamophobia within the context of hate crime. Complains are investigated by a dedicated team of officers. Criminal offence was given priority whatever the race or ethnicity, gender, disability, age, sexuality, religion - actual or perceived by the victim. We shave seen threat of the EDL on the borough and it causes concerns the causes to the community.
Mr. Reavill said it is the time for the communities to work together. He said the community cohesion is very very important.
Speaking about the Tower Hamlets Borough, Mr. Reavill said, this is a very very diverse borough.
Stop the War Coalition
Lindsey German, Stop the War Coalition, said to me in an interview, “The war on terror which begun in 2001 really created the present mood of Islamophobia; when you bombed on a countries which are largely Muslim countries then you have to demonise the people where you are bombing and at the same time as we talk about terrorism among Muslims, we are conducting terror attacks with drone in Pakistan and Afghanistan and we are creating a situation where more and more people around the world have grievances against, grievance against the United States and other countries in the world.”
“And if we want to end that, we have to campaign not just against the wars but against Islamophobia as well. Also Islamophobia does not come from the Far Right but it comes from the government, it comes from the police, it comes from the whole attitudes in society. The attitudes to Muslims are somehow inferior. We have to campaign against that as well,” said German.
Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, said to me in an interview, “I am delighted to support this campaign against Islamophobia and for cohesive society recognises all faiths and respects for all faiths. Because what I have noticed over the past eleven years ever since the problem of 9/11 and the war on Afghanistan has been a gross Islamophobia in the popular press and this then leads on to unemployment, leads on to discrimination, and leads on to brutality and that allows quite discriminatory anti-terror laws passed in this country. So tonight what I am saying tonight is that Islam is a part of the British society; it’s a part of normal life and it’s a faith that can be respected and recognised and supported we are here to demonstrate that tonight.”
“I remember couple of weeks ago Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan were deported to the United States to face charges which will never put in British court and they were not in any sense prosecuted in Britain. Gary McKinnon few days later was not deported to the USA. Again, the US tried to extradite, the British government refused. I think everyone else can draw their conclusion from that decision,” mentioned Labour MP Corbyn.
Mayor Tower Hamlets
Lutfur Rahman, an independent executive Mayor of Tower Hamlets and has been Councillors for 10 years, said, “I regularly get described as an ‘extremist’. I get depicted as being part of a supposed Islamist conspiracy to ‘Talibanise Tower Hamlets’. My administration gets depicted as being one that panders to homophobic and anti-Semitic views. There is not a single shred of evidence to substantiate these claims.”
Tower Hamlets Mayor mentioned, “I am not alone in being subject to this kind of treatment. Labour’s Sadiq Khan, the Shadow Justice Secretary, was accused of holding ‘extremist’ views after he called for a ‘more independent foreign policy’. Labour Peer Lord Ahmed found himself being branded an ‘extremist’ and suspended from the party. When former Conservative Party Chairperson Sayeeda Warsi was appointed to the Conservative frontbench in 2007 some of her own colleagues said her appointment was ‘the wrong signal at a time when Britain is fighting a global war against Islamic terrorism and extremism’.”
“I don’t doubt there are genuine violent extremists out there and it is right that they are monitored,” said Tower Hamlets Mayor and added, “But it is wrong and dangerous to lump all of us who express political opinions via the democratic process and those who support sectarian hate and advocate violence.
Speaking about the role of journalists, Mayor Rahman said, “It is a reality that there are a small but powerful group of journalists who see Islam and Muslims as alien, hostile and threatening. When the Daily Mail’s Melanie Phillips refers to ‘fifth column in our midst’ we all know who she is talking about. And when the Spectator’s Douglas Murray says ‘conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board’, we know exactly what he is talking about.”
Mr. Rahman also mentioned, “Islamophobia is real. It needs to be exposed and challenged. And events like Islamophobia Awareness Week are very important to that end.
But there is a good sign that the preachers of hatred were pushed to the margin in the Tower Hamlets Borough. “Those who preach hatred, against whatever community, have consistently been pushed to the margins in this borough. I am inspired by our residents findings that the number of residents from different backgrounds who state they get on well together has risen year on year and now stands at 78%,” mentioned Mayor of Tower Hamlets.
“Islamophobia is the latest form of attack on this borough’s multicultural identity,” said Mayor Rahman. But he emphasized, “There is no place for hate in Tower Hamlets. There is no place for hate against people on the basis of sexual identity. There is no place for hate on the basis of racial identity. There is no place for hate on the basis of religious identity. We are one Tower Hamlets. And we are not going to let the preachers of hate, wherever they comes from, divide us.”
Wales chair of FOSIS,
Sahar Alfaifi, Wales chair of the Federation of Students Islamic Societies, started saying, “As a niqabi (face veil), a Muslim female with a face veil the first things that comes to most people mind that I am oppressed, that I am uneducated, passive, isolated behind closed doors and not integrated within the British society. This is how the media portrayed me; this is how the tabloids see me and now not only that this is also how some high-profile politicians and leaders think of me. All these are contributing to the old and new phenomenon Islamophobia.”
She emphasized by saying, “No. I am not oppressed. I am highly educated. I am actually scientist, active individual and well-integrated within the British society. Fortunately, we are living in times of remarkable complacency as well as rising the new racism.”
“Racism is now called Islamophobia, spreading across Europe and UK that is manifesting different forms and shapes from vilifying mosques, attacking Muslims, marginalising the Muslim as individual, as a society and also as an organisation,” Ms Alfaifi said.
Ms. Alfaifi also mentioned, “Islamophobia is also reaching university campuses. Years ago, a Muslim brother was tapped in City University and many sisters including me faced verbal, written and physical abuses from pulling off hijab, the headscarf, to calling them names such as terrorists, bombers, and the list goes on.”
She also mentioned, “Islamophobia becomes after-talk dinner as has been described before and now actually generated and explained away. It also not becomes limited to the right-wing political activists, but also politicians and organisations from all sorts as well as governmental sectors.”
“Institutional racism and Islamophobia is expanding and now reaching the justice and administrative sector by extraditing recently Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan but not Gary McKinnon and their rights as British citizen has been denied,” said Alfaifi. .
Wales chair of FOSIS maintained, “Britain is living example of a country of democracy, human rights, mutual respect and tolerance. We have to work hard individually as well as collectively to maintain these values of freedom, justice and tolerance; because today Muslims who are attacked are never know who will be attacked tomorrow. These attacks cannot be justified.”
“Whether you agree or disagree with the Muslim faith or people, whether you agree or disagree with the niqab or face veil, there is one thing that I hope, we all agree on that niqab or any act of worship is not a culture, is not a tradition, it is actually an act of worship like many others and here I truly really believe them,” said Ms. Alfaifi..
Speaking on niqab or face veil which she was wearing, Ms Sahar Alfaifi emphasized by saying, “No one actually has got the right to force it on me, neither no one has got the right to take it off me. I pray as a Muslim and British and more specifically Welsh and there is no conflict or antagonism between these three identities.”
The Islamophobia Awareness Month was spearheaded by the Enough Coalition Against Islamophobia, The Muslim Council of Britain and ENGAGE and other partners.