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Islamaphobia in England: A Personal Perspective

August 20, 2014
located:United Kingdom
by:Gurmeet Singh
Firstly, a word of caution; this is not a scientific study. This is a personal perspective on the nature of Islamaphobia in England. The main reason for writing this article is to respond to the growing prejudice in England against Muslims, and the frequent use of anti-Islamic rhetoric and tropes to justify greater security measures, anti-immigration policies, and even as a part of the anti-EU agenda in England. The focus is on England and not Britain, as it is beyond my scope and first-hand experience to describe British Islamophobia.

Islamophobia is not identical to:

Criticism of the religion Islam.Anti-Islamism.Criticism of countries with Islamic constitutions.

To begin, here are some things I think are important to bear in mind about Islamophobia, generally9/11 is both the grounding principle and first premise in the Islamophobic worldview.

To begin, here are some things I think are important to bear in mind about Islamophobia, generally:

9/11 is both the grounding principle and first premise in the Islamophobic worldview.And yet Islamophbia draws upon a long history including the Crusades, and archaic critical terms such as the West, the East, the Western world, the Islamic world and various psychological types these different worlds produce (virtuous, immoral etc.).Islam is seen as a homogenous religion. Likewise, the West is seen as homogenous. Islamophobia, like anti-Semitism, is essentially a conspiracy theory.

Islamophobia in England

Press presentation of Muslims: The English press are very guilty in promoting an image of Muslims as “radicals”, “terrorists” or otherwise threatening to English culture and life. This largely goes unchallenged in England, and of course perpetuates stereotypes, as well as providing a confirmation bias for Islamophobes. Islamophobia has something to do with race: Before 9/11, Muslims in England were not identified by the public as Muslims per se; nationality and ethnicity were conflated with religion, and the public would refer to this same group of people as Pakistanis or pejoratively, Pakis. After 9/11, the ‘Muslim-ness’ of Muslims became much more pronounced, but not the single characteristic identified by the public. Although the public still conflate ethnicity and nationality with Muslims and Islam, the equation is simply reversed; before 9/11, Pakistanis were Muslim, now, Muslims are Pakistani. This is itself problematic, but distinguishes Islamophobia from other prejudices in giving it a racial character. Islamophobia cuts across English classes and backgrounds: Although Islamophobic groups such as the English Defence League tend to be made up of working class white men, Islamophobia is present in all levels of society. It’s not particularly gender-inflected phenomenon either. Yet it does have something to do with social deprivation: In English areas that have suffered from low unemployment and high-immigration, the multi-cultural and tolerant surface gives way to seething resentment. Where people may have legitimate concerns about their lack of economic opportunity and mobility, their lack of government support, the sudden or steady influx of (legitimate or illegal) immigrants and the disrepair into which their towns have fallen; it’s only natural that a seductive explanation appears to fill the gap. Legitimate, non-racist and uncontroversial concerns about the rate of immigration and the rate of change in one’s community are of course, not necessarily Islamophobic. Indeed, these are areas that require the most attention, public service enhancement and community building from the government and civil society. But they are areas where such concerns are so prevalent as to become conducive for the development of Islamophobia. It’s women who suffer most: In England, Muslim women have made up nearly two-thirds of the victims of Islamophobic attacks. Their veils have been torn off, they have been verbally abused, they have physically attacked. In one recent, shocking attack, a Muslim woman was killed in London- the police have suggested the crime may have been Islamophobic in nature, and related the fact that she was wearing the veil when she was killed. This shows the underlying confusion at the heart of Islamophobia in England. Groups such as the English Defence League (who organise flash mobs around the country protesting what they perceive as the “Islamification of England”) have often been quoted as having high-minded motivations for their prejudice. They claim that Islam oppresses women, and the West doesn’t, and therefore Islam is evil. To free the oppressed women of Islam, Islamophobes, including some EDL members, attack those women, verbally, physically, and on the internet. They do not recognise that while religion may enable the flourishing of patriarchy, it is ultimately patriarchy and not religion which is the problem.. Islamophobes celebrate what they claim to detest: Violence. The Islamophobe claims to detest violence- the bombings of July 2007, the attempts to blow up Glasgow Airport, the horrific killing of serviceman Lee Rigby on a public street- all this makes them feel sick, they claim. Yet, English Islamophobes adopt the symbols, gestures and languages of armed forces- not to demonstrate their solidarity with soldiers, but to show their support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They distort the very ideas the armed forces stand for. Islamophobes have praised the aggression of the armed forces, using words like ‘revenge; and ‘conquer’, in an attempt to entrench the notion that Islamophobes are fighting a war, and that the armed forces are on their side. Israel and Islamophobia: During EDL rallies, there are visible allusions to Israel, and what was perceived to be its positive aggression towards Palestinians. The complexity of the Israel-Palestine situation hasn’t stopped Islamophobes from carrying Stars of David on their marches. The aim- to intimidate and provoke Muslims. This is insulting to Israelis, Jews, Muslims and Palestinians. And to history. And to common sense. Israel and Islamophobia #2: To take a stand against Israel is difficult in England- as mentioned, there is a lot of support for Pro-Israeli aggression. But, it’s even more difficult when you’re Muslim. Normally, people can show support for Palestine, but an Anti-Israel Muslims in England will almost certainly be called anti-Semitic. It’s the reverse situation in Germany- where, in a strange development, Israelis and Jews are likened to the Nazi party; in England, anti-Israeli Muslims tend be likened to Nazis. A messy, messy business. It’s dumb: This isn’t usually a point permitted in an argument, but it’s true. Much Islamophobia is fuelled by rumour, lies and the internet. It’s dull- it’s unlearned, and has only a semblance of authority and unity. It has claims to expertise, having some knowledge of the Qur’an, but most of the information it cites is specious.

English Islamophobia is therefore muddled, conflicted and often violent. Unless education and dialogue are promoted between communities in England, it risks alienating a substantial part of its citizenry from both mainstream national discourse and processes, and entrenching prejudice beyond this generation.

Article written by:
gurmeet portray
Gurmeet Singh
Author, Contributing Editor
United Kingdom
EDL Islamophobia