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Lifting the worrying veil on Islamophobia in Britain

A man who allegedly tore the hijab off a Muslim woman at Turnpike Lane Station in London last weekend wasn’t doing anything particularly unusual. Acts and abuse of this kind are now everyday occurrence in a Britain that appears to have been teased into Brexit, however messily, by Islamophobia and its cousinly sentiments against other migrants.

Islamophobic attacks and abuse recorded a sharp spike with the Brexit vote, and have risen massively since, hardly coincidentally. An increase in recorded hate crimes “is thought to be largely driven by improvements in police recording, although there have been spikes in hate crime following certain events such as the EU referendum and the terrorist attacks in 2017”, a British Home Office document says. The Brexit provocation to Islamophobic attacks is now acknowledged officially.

A report from the Home Office tells us 94,098 hate crimes were recorded in the country in 2017-2018, of which 52 per cent were aimed at Muslims, with Jewish people the next most targeted. That’s about 130 to 140 hate crimes against Muslims reported every single day – and Scotland Yard says such crimes are “hugely underreported”. That’s with just a couple of million Muslims in a country of about 60 million.

 Lifting the worrying veil on Islamophobia in Britain

Police guard Finsbury Park Mosque in London following the New Zealand mosque attacks.  (Yui Mok/PA via AP)

The group Citizens UK found in Nottingham that three in five Muslims said they had been victim of a hate crime: that can mean anything from abuse to assault. “The scourge of Islamophobia is real, with statistics by the Home Office highlighting a 40 per cent increase in hate crimes (in a year),” Nafisa Begum from the Muslim Council of Britain told Firstpost. In only one case in ten on average is anyone charged over the offence. Most victims are women and most perpetrators young white men.

The violence by extremists is out on the streets for all to see, but that’s only the sharp end of a shared prejudice others express by vote. There is no known organisation behind these attacks. In place of a mainstreaming of Muslims, Britain is witnessing a mainstreaming of hatred of Muslims, and of increasing aggression in expressing it.

The group Tell Mama that invites Muslims to inform it on hate crimes reported a sixfold rise in incidents in the week after the Christchurch carnage in mid-March. Women wearing the hijab have been called “terrorist sluts”, men with typically Muslim beards have been called “bin Laden” – and this is only about the least unprintable of the abuse. Just stepping out of home in Britain looking like a Muslim is these days a calculated risk.

In a predictable outcome, Muslim neighbourhoods appear to be turning in upon themselves. British Muslims have for long crowded into a few selected areas around the country, mostly Bradford, Leeds, Manchester and Bolton towards the north, areas in London such as Newham and Tower Hamlets, and around Birmingham in the Midlands, where five mosques were attacked after the Christchurch killings. The smashed windows at the Witton Islamic Centre in Aston area of Birmingham are still boarded up with plywood. The streets around feel boarded up as well. The neighbourhood is entirely Muslim, and it lives around itself and for its own. Before political correctness stepped in, this would be called a ghetto. Britain politely calls this sort of place an ‘inner city’.

At the crossing of Witton Road with Birchfield Road in this ‘inner city’ a broken sofa seats garbage – not the way Britain usually deals with its sofas, or its pavements, or its garbage. Bottles and waste litter the little around that is green. A few men hanging around at corners look on visitors with suspicion. After the attacks on the mosques the place looks scared, not just neglected. “For the first two days after the attacks parents did not send their children,” Sharafat Ali who heads the Witton Islamic Centre told Firstpost. Send their children that is, to the madrassa that the centre runs.

The madrassa offers the Islamic part of a child’s education – and Britain has close to a couple of thousand of them. Regular school for a kid coming to the Witton Centre is from eight in the morning to 3.30 in the afternoon followed by lessons at the madrassa from about five to seven. The morning school is intended to build up the good Brit, the evening madrassa the good Muslim within that good Brit. The madrassa that looks to keep a growing kid Muslim also makes the kid separate from other British kids.

It’s a separation that most Muslim families are at pains to ensure. The formal regime of an Islamic education means the stamp of separation is brought to bear a little more heavily on the typical Muslim kids than on children from other minority religions. Muslim parents protested outside a Birmingham school that has begun already to teach primary children about gay sex; that education will be compulsory from next year. The parents’ protest only marked Muslims as ‘other’ in yet another way - it can get hard to tell sometimes whether British Muslims are more excluded than excluding. That raises the troubling political question whether Muslims themselves ask to be seen as the ‘other’ that Brexiteers see them as.

That’s still no reason why someone can’t be both a good Brit publicly and a good Muslim privately. But the growing abuse and rising attacks a Muslim now faces on Britain’s streets is leaving British Muslims increasingly troubled in both spaces. There’s only that far anyone can retreat into the cocoon of an ‘inner city’. Stepping out of that to deal with the Islamophobia all around presents a difficulty as easy to describe as it is difficult to resolve: speak up against hate crime and you raise your profile as a Muslim against whom the hate is directed. But just who among British Muslims is speaking up?

A study by Newcastle University threw up some unexpected results. “The slightly older participants, who were at or had been at University, were the most likely to actively participate in politics and activism,” Dr Robin Finlay from the university told Firstpost. “The younger participants, who were still at school, were more likely to be marginalised and uncomfortable with the public realm of mainstream politics.” That would make older Muslims more willing to contest anti-Muslim sentiment politically. What becomes of a Britain where young white men attack Muslims more and more, that then drives young Muslims to refuse to engage with Britain.

British Muslims are missing New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s tone after the Christchurch attacks. “You are us,” she said to her country’s Muslims. That also needs the other side to say “We are you.”

 

 

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Updated Date: Apr 05, 2019 12:46:28 IST

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