Owen Jones writes: To be a prominent Muslim means suffering a daily diet of bigotry and even outright hatred. This week, Mehdi Hasan – who, other than my colleague Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, is Britain’s only prominent Muslim journalist – wrote of how, every day, he is attacked as a “jihadist” and a “terrorist”. He has been described as a “dangerous Muslim shithead”, a “moderate cockroach”, and worse. The message from his critics is clear: Muslims have no legitimate place in public life.
Mehdi Hasan was right to speak out, but it must not be left to Muslims alone to take on this bigotry. A tide of Islamophobia has swept Europe for many years, and – shamefully – all too few have taken a stand. Even many who regard themselves as “progressives” have either remained silent or even indulged anti-Muslim prejudice. It’s time for Muslims and non-Muslims alike to join forces against the most widespread – and most acceptable – form of bigotry of our times.
Think I’m exaggerating? Consider that the far-right’s main target of choice is no longer Jews or black people: it’s Muslims. The BNP portrays itself as a crusade against the “Islamification” of Britain; in the 2010 election, it launched a “Campaign Against Islam”. Its leader, Nick Griffin, describes Islam as “wicked” and a “cancer”, and has blamed Muslims for problems such as drugs and rape. The English Defence League stages frequent – and often intimidating – street rallies protesting against Muslims.
But anti-Muslim prejudice isn’t simply confined to the far-right fringes. I attended a Stockport sixth form with a large Muslim student population. The reality of their lives is all but airbrushed out of existence. When they appear at all, it’s generally as fanatics, extremists or a community somehow “harbouring” dangerous extremists. (When do Britain’s whites face the absurdity of being called on to crack down on far-right fanatics supposedly in their ranks?) One study took a selection of newspapers in a single week: 91 per cent of reports featuring Muslims were negative.
One of my Muslim fellow students was Dr Leon Moosavi, fast becoming a national authority on Islamophobia. He battles against the widespread denial that anti-Muslim prejudice is a problem. But consider that, in one poll conducted by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, 45 per cent of Britons agreed that “there are too many Muslims” in Britain. Imagine if nearly half the population admitted to believing that “there are too many Jews” in Britain: how loud would our alarm be? [Continue reading…]