November 2006 
Year 13    No.120


Incitement to violence

The political and media onslaught on Muslims in the UK is already fuelling
physical attacks on the streets


Where is this political opportunism taking us? Into the dark tunnel of national strife. The corrosive
effect of the political and media onslaught against British Muslims is having its impact on all sections
of society. What is claimed to be an assertion of free speech and democratic rights is rapidly becoming the demonisation of a community. Once they are dehumanised, who cares for their democratic, civil or human rights?

Since John Reid demanded that Muslim "bullies" must be faced down and Jack Straw declared the veil a "statement of separation", ministers have fallen over themselves to make increasingly unbridled attacks on Muslims. The shadow home secretary, David Davis, has accused our communities of creating a "voluntary apartheid" and colleges have taken action against veiled teachers and students. The tabloid press has declared open season on Muslims with one hostile front page story after another.

In practice this has amounted to incitement to violence. In recent weeks, verbal and physical attacks on Muslims have surged alarmingly. Women have had their scarves ripped off. Mosques and Islamic centres in Preston and Falkirk have been attacked by mobs and firebombed.

Not only is it is dangerous for the media to vilify and demonise an entire community, even if they are only three per cent of the population as British Muslims are; so too it is pure brinkmanship for ministers to fan these flames. By their nature, politicians are an opportunistic breed. Yet they must have a sense of when to pull back from the abyss. If they claim that Muslim extremists are the source of all the ills in British society, then let them recognise that secular extremism is not the solution. Two extremisms would only tear us apart.

In such charged circumstances people might hope to hear words of tolerance from others of faith. But alas, the Church of England has added to the confusion. The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu demanded that Muslims do more to integrate; then a "leaked" document criticised the government’s multi-faith policy for allegedly pandering to Muslims at the expense of Christians.

When in modern British history has a community been subjected to such intrusion and nationally fomented aggression? Muslim parents are lectured on parenting, imams are ordered to monitor their worshippers and women are told what to wear. Profit and political advancement now seem to depend on defamation of Muslims and their faith. The veil is deemed a symbol of the subjugation of women, whatever the women themselves say and believe. Newspapers that carried pictures of veiled women beside hostile stories displayed advertisements over the page of naked men and women posing together. The secular extremists who lash out at religious practices, including wearing a crucifix, presumably see this as a form of liberation.

What is going on is an abuse of power, an echo of what took us into the quagmire of Iraq – from which the political and media attack on Muslims is evidently intended to be a distraction.

The government’s refusal for so long to recognise the link between its own disastrous foreign policy in the Muslim world and the extremism it was fomenting is now fuelling the flames of Islamophobia. No one should underestimate the destructive potential of this calculated and incessant propaganda. Instead of fostering cohesion it is accelerating division. The Third Reich historian William Shirer recalls that despite people’s distrust of Nazi propaganda its steady doses of falsification and distortion in the long run affected even well meaning and decent Germans. Will we not then learn from history?

(Daud Abdullah is deputy secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain.)

(Courtesy The Guardian.)

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