Muslims need allies

It’s Islamophobia Awareness Month. Which to be frank is not great. Sadly things have not got better since I was elected as the first female Muslim councillor in Merton in 2018. During my first term, I pushed Merton Council to accept the APPG definition of Islamophobia, but they didn’t. And there is still denial that it even needs to be defined. This is a problem if we are to truly tackle this type of racism.

Only a couple a weeks ago our candidate in the by-election in Kingston, who is a Muslim, was attacked viciously by the opposing Independent party in literature that marked him out as being unsuitable because of his faith. That night, I walked by his side as we refused to be cowed and continue campaigning. He was nervous and shaken by it all, but was also in disbelief. As we knocked on doors he remarked, “I remember that racism was quite common when I was kid but I didn’t think it was still this bad”. Sadly, I was not surprised. I have seen this type of behaviour on social media but what was shocking that this racist attack was on a leaflet. What got us through that night was the reception we had at the doors, nearly everyone we talked to who had seen the leaflet were shocked. Appalled that anyone would be attacked for simply having a religious faith.

Islamophobia, as defined by the APPG on Islamophobia, is “rooted in racism, and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.” The Liberal Democrats were the first political party to accept the definition. (Proud of this!)

Islamophobia is a bit like an iceberg, there is a smaller visible part that everyone can see but a much larger part under the water that is more difficult to see. Racism can have a visible part which usually means verbal or physical attacks, a mosque getting vandalised. The much bigger hidden part includes discrimination, stereotyping, marginalisation and exclusion. This is called structural Islamophobia. This can happen when unconsciously or consciously someone does not get a job because of a name that could sound like it could be Muslim. It could happen when a woman who loses her job because of her hijab. It could happen when newspapers’ headlines label Muslims as terrorists.

There is also documented evidence that hate crime has continued to increase year on year in the UK. In the year ending March 2022, 155,841 hate crimes were recorded by the police in England and Wales, a 26% increase compared with the previous year. In the year ending March 2022, two in five (42%) of religious hate crime offenses were targeted against Muslims (3,459 offenses out of 8307 cases providing information on targeted religion hate crime). Nearly half of all religious hate crime is directed at Muslims.

During the pandemic Islamophobia spread on social media. Religiously aggravated hate crimes increased by one-third compared to the same period in 2019. According to the Anadolu Agency European Islamophobia Report of 2022, Muslims are now 4 times more likely to experience hate crimes than those who identify as Christians.

There was even divisive media narratives that blamed Muslims for transmitting infection were widespread. On 26 June, The Telegraph ran an article headlined, “Exclusive: Half of UK’s imported Covid19 infections are from Pakistan.” Other papers picked this up and spread that the misinformation to imply that people from Pakistan were a major cause of COVID19 infection in the UK. In fact, according to Public Health England (PHE) data, the total number of cases was only 30, accounting for 0.01% of all cases. These headlines incite hatred and spread Islamophobia.

But showing that words such as these in headlines can hurt is hard to prove. Some think that they can use words that are exaggerated or incorrect and the impact will be minimal. But words do matter. And words that harm that are in our newspapers or worse from our leaders in power, only legitimise hate and fuel it.

Currently the government has still yet to accept the APPG definition of Islamophobia. So it comes as no surprise, that this year, Islamophobia Awareness Month’s theme is #tacklingdenial. It is important that we all understand the existence of denial, and how dangerous this can be. We all need to tackle Islamophobia together. It can be hard to keep calling out racism without allies. So thank you to anyone who is an ally. Your support matters.

 

* Hina Bokhari is a Liberal Democrat member of the London Assembly.

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13 Comments

  • Hina – thank you very much for this and for all the good work you are doing. Something that pains me as a Liberal and a Christian is how much emphasis is placed on ‘differences’ rather than ‘commonalities’, as right-wing commentators bang the clash of civilisations drum.

    The role of Muslim scholars in the transmission and development of Greek thought, science and medicine is really known only to a few intellectuals; the contribution of Islamic geometry and ornamentation to Romanesque and Gothic architecture (and Wren’s use of Sinan’s geometry in the great dome of St Paul’s) are completely overlooked.

    Nor is it realised that there is often more than meets the eye to great historical battles that are perceived as clashes between Muslims and Christians. At the Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683, the Muslim Lypka Tatars fought in the Polish army, while a large Hungarian Protestant army was allied with the Turks (although it did not take part in the siege itself). Oh, and by the way, France was allied to Turkey at the time. There are many other such facts that ought to be better known.

    Most importantly, perhaps, is the fact that public virtues such as trust, honesty, truthfulness are as integral to Islam as they are to Christianity and Judaism, to say nothing of Liberalism.

  • Superb writing on the subject both from Hina Bokhari and now from John McHugo. Thank you both.
    I have just got home from the by-election Hina mentions. One good thing to come out of it was that all the other parties (Conservative, Labour and Green) supported us in condemning the Islamophobic attack on our candidate. In over 40 years of campaigning I have never seen anything like it, and it is now the subject of a police investigation as a hate crime.

  • John Bicknell 11th Nov '22 - 7:46am

    Sadly, the by election resulted in an Independent gain from the Lib Dems.

  • David Goble 11th Nov '22 - 9:25am

    Nobody has mentioned the greatest commonality of all – we are all human!

  • William Wallace 11th Nov '22 - 10:25am

    There’s a lot of underlying Islamophobia around Bradford – although it seems stronger among older people and less widespread among the young. The Bradford Council of Mosques helped to pay for the restoration of Bradford’s synagogue, and there’s some active inter-faith work. I was sitting next to synagogue representatives in Bradford Cathedral before a service to mark the Queen’s death when the President of the Council of Mosques sat down next to me (and asked why I had forgotten to give him more rhubarb from our allotment this year…) We all need to work at local initiatives to promote mutual understanding and sympathy.

  • John Hall, your comment is supported by Munther Isaac, a Palestinian Christian of Bethlehem Bible College whose book this year describes how Palestinians still feel about the events of 1948 and more importantly, that Palestinian Christians feel betrayed by the Christian Zionist/Evangelicals around the world, not just in the USA. He says their theology is wrong and condemns any view that puts one religious group against another.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 11th Nov '22 - 11:52am

    A didactic and forensic approach to issues must be acompanied by emotion and feeling.

    Hina exudes such an approach, with her work and written contribution, valued.

    John Hall alas here presents a one sided and caustic view, to a situation that has two sides, as the alternative views show here

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/palestine-and-israel-face-a-dark-future-71924.html

  • John McHugo 11th Nov '22 - 2:25pm

    @Lorenzo, I agree with you that Leon Duveen’s post on the other thread is broadly sensible so far as it goes, but I am uneasy about your remarks concerning John Hall’s posting on this thread.

    He opens with the statement, “Sad to say that the British abandoned Palestinian Muslims (and, indeed, Christians too) to a bout of ethnic cleansing at the hands of Jewish militia in 1948 when they surrendered the British mandate of Palestine.”

    However John may or may not have expressed himself, I’m afraid that this happened. It is important if there is ever to be peace that historical fact is accepted by all. I recommend Benny Morris’s “The Palestine Refugee Problem Revisited” https://www.amazon.co.uk/Palestinian-Refugee-Problem-Revisited-Cambridge/dp/0521009677/ref=sr_1_6?crid=1KFQD7BXRD0A0&keywords=Benny+Morris&qid=1668176449&s=books&sprefix=benny+morris+%2Cstripbooks%2C128&sr=1-6 if you have any doubts.

    I also dealt with the issue in a paper I gave in May: https://balfourproject.org/the-legal-vacuum-britain-created-john-mchugo/.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 11th Nov '22 - 5:03pm

    John, it is in the way, not the what, of expressing it. Two sides, two stories, connected. They need a different approach. Words and phrases like “jewish,” or “ethnic cleansing,” are thrown about with blame and partisanship. This helps nothing or no one, really. We need both sides to meet. How can they if one side is always hated by the other who feels victimised? What happened, to whom, requires a longer story to be told and either it must be, or, better to tell a new tale, of today and tomorrow.

  • This post is very specifically about Islamophobia in the UK. I’m afraid some comments have strayed away from that into discussion of international situations. Please stick to the topic.

  • David Garlick 11th Nov '22 - 8:35pm

    Mary Reid. Unusually this topic cannot be divorced from the International picture and events.
    All I will add is that all power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely and the ripples spread across the world these days even to the UK.

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