The New Arab Logo

Breaking News
Islamophobia Awareness Month: We need activism not diplomacy Open in fullscreen

Malia Bouattia

Islamophobia Awareness Month: We need activism not diplomacy

London protesters take a stand against Islamophobia in July 2017 [Getty]

Date of publication: 20 November, 2017

Share this page:
  • 0

  • twitter
Comment: Too often, our so-called community leaders and representatives hope that by inviting Islamophobes into our houses, associations and mosques, we will change their minds, writes Malia Bouattia.
This month is Islamophobia Awareness Month. 

A full 30 days of reflecting on the condition of Muslims in the UK today, from employability statistics, attainment in education, visibility in our history books and parliament, to how we are treated in the streets.

Most people won't have realised this aspect of November however.

This is perhaps unsurprising in a country where the most popular newspapers spew ant-Muslim hatred almost daily, and women's hijabs have been ripped off in the streets, while so-called experts debate whether the Muslim veil is "democratic" or "aligned to British values". 

The reality for Muslims in the UK, and for many others around the world, is that we have reaced crisis point. Islamophobia has been on the rise over the last decade and recent statistics indicate there has been a 37 percent increase since last year.

Furthermore the UK is a leading nation when it comes to institutionalised Islamophobia. The government's anti-terrorism strategy - 'Prevent' - that forces doctors, nursery teachers, mental health professionals, academics and social works to racially profile and strengthen the othering of communities of colour - and especially Muslims - is being rolled out across Europe as a 'model strategy'.

Apparently, when it comes to targeting Muslim communities, Brexiteers and Europhiles agree to deeper cooperation.

Recent figures released by the Home Office show that between 2015 and 2016 of the 7,316 individuals referred, only 5 percent went on to receive specialist support. Two thousand children were targeted, and over half of the total were under the age of 20.

During last year's launch in parliament of the Open Society Justice Initiative's report, Eroding Trust: The UK’s Prevent Counter-Extremism Strategy in Health and Educationa father and community activist stood up and told his story.

Imams gather to condemn the London Bridge terror attack June 2017 - Muslims are often required to condemn the actions of terrorists [Getty]

Imams gather to condemn the London Bridge terror attack June 2017 -
Muslims are often required to condemn the actions of terrorists [Getty]

He explained how he had taken on the role of championing Prevent in the West Midlands because he truly believed it would  tackle the problems within the local community.

And then his own son was referred.

The child was left traumatised, unable to go back to school or interact with his friends and fearful of everyone and everything around him. The father's direct contact with this so-called counter-extremism project cast doubt over the programme's true purpose, and the very real impact it has on peoples' lives.

This is especially true for children who are unable to comprehend these experiences when they happen. How exactly should one go about explaining to a child that he was interrogated by the police not because of what he did, but because of who he is?

While the state, the media, and countless public 'experts' normalise anti-Muslim hatred and institutionalise Islamophobic policies, it is perhaps unsurprising that the far right is feeling increasingly confident across Europe.

When it comes to targeting Muslim communities, Brexiteers and Europhiles agree to deeper cooperation

As recently as last week, our screens were flooded with the news that over 60,000 ultra-nationalists marched the streets of Warsaw, Poland chanting "white Europe of brotherly nations", "Pure Poland, white Poland!" and holding a banner that read "Pray for Islamic Holocaust".

This was worrying to so many in the UK because it felt like hard evidence of far-right groups like Pegida, Britain First and the newly formed Football Lads Alliance, increasing their following.

It is unfortunate then, that the very institutions whose purpose it is to take on anti-Muslim racism from the streets to the state, seem stuck in a race for official approval and institutional support from the very same organisations who target us.

The launch of Islamophobia Awareness Month was for example, in some cases attended by MPs and other officials known for their pro-Israel stances, trips to illegal settlements and support for the Prevent agenda.

This is not a first.

Polish fascists celebrate independence day and call for "an Islamic Holocaust"  [Twitter]

Polish fascists celebrate independence day
and call for "an Islamic Holocaust"  [Twitter]

It has become common to find right-wing figures within the Labour Party such as Wes Streeting MP, or members of this racist Tory government, involved as keynote speakers at public events hosted by national and reputable Muslim organisations.

The contradiction is striking.

One might ask, where were the hundreds of parents of children victimised under Prevent, or the sisters who have been physically and verbally abused on public transport? Where were all the grassroots groups, mosque volunteers, teachers, activists and ex-Guantanamo detainees who have been tortured for years to legitimise the "War on Terror"?

The problem is that too often our so-called community leaders, representatives, and organisations hope that by inviting those who target us into our houses, associations, and mosques, they will change their minds and come to see the Muslim community in a more humane way.

What this fails to acknowledge is that racism is not rooted in ignorance or confusion. It is a political strategy by the powerful to drive a wedge through society and pit its members against each other.

From anti-imperialist struggles, to civil rights and local anti-racism efforts, it was always the mass struggles from below that forced politicians, media outlets and other talking heads to change their minds. In the words of Frederick Douglas, the Black American freedom fighter:

It was the activity of the oppressed, not their attempts to pacify the racists, that broke the back of British fascism

"Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both."

It is this, the centrality of resistance, that our official leadership seems unable to grasp.

In truth the UK has a long history of popular revolts against both the racism of the state and the ineffectual powers that be within oppressed communities: The Asian Youth movement and the Anti-Nazi League, the black unions and British Black Panthers, to name just a few.

At the height of 1930s European fascism, while community officials were involved in negotiations with state officials, it was thousands and thousands of Jewish working class activists, bundists, socialists, communists and trade unionists - alongside their non-Jewish comrades - who took on the British Union of Fascists in the battle of Cable Street.

Racism is not rooted in ignorance or confusion. It is a political strategy by the powerful to drive a wedge through society

It was the activity of the oppressed, not their attempts to pacify the racists, that broke the back of British fascism and sent a clear message to the British ruling class: Growing anti-Semitism would be responded to with growing resistance and struggle.

The powerful in our society need to hear this message again, and they won't hear it in the corridors of power. We need to tell them in the streets, in our communities, and workplaces. Not politely, in ones and twos, but confidently, furiously, and clearly, in our millions - alongside all anti-racists across British society.

 
Malia Bouattia is an activist, the former President of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

 

The New ArabComments

Most Popular

Most Popular

    Read More