Cabinet Minister Sayeeda Warsi has argued that Islamophobia is now seen by many as normal and uncontroversial in a speech to the University of Leceister. She also says that describing Muslims as either “moderate” or “extremist” fosters growing prejudice.
On 27th November 2010, a report was launched in London titled ‘Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: UK Case Studies 2010’. The European Muslim Research Centre produced the report, in excess of two hundred pages, further exposing to the world the hostile face of Britain and Europe towards Islam.
The report documented media demonisation of Islam and Muslims. It described a parallel rise in the cases of attacks on Muslims, especially those – like women – who display observable features of their faith in their manner of dress; attacks on the masajid – including the use of bricks and stones, firebombs and leaving the heads of pigs outside of masjid buildings; and varying other acts of abuse towards Muslims in Britain.
One of the authors described the attacks as causing him to feel sickened when he heard about them, whilst another saw a parallel with racist hate attacks that he witnessed living in the Britain in the 1960’s and 1970’s. All expressed concern over inadequate recognition of these problems at an official level and were troubled by the widespread sentiment that such attacks on Muslims might be justifiable or even understandable.
The report quite correctly outlined the incorrect belief that exists in political circles that more Islam equates with further propensity to violence, and went some way to redress this flawed thinking.
Several speakers at the report launch expressed concerns about labels of ‘extremist’ and ‘radical’ being selectively applied to suit political and ideological ends. One highlighted that there were clear parallels with the old colonial policy of ‘divide and rule’.
The authors are non-Muslim British/American academics and said the evidence in front of them disturbed them. One of them said that he hoped that this research would give an opportunity for empirical evidence to be the basis of opinion in this debate, and not ideology – as it had been hitherto.
Some of those who attended the launch event did express concern that there was a danger that this report may have, unwittingly, simply replaced someone else’s classification of ‘moderate’ and ‘extremist’ with the authors’ own preferred definition, albeit more inclusive; with both models using liberalism as their criteria to define Islam and Muslims. They had voiced their aim to claim back liberalism from the clutches of ‘liberal hawks’. Hence, their discussion within the exclusive framework of liberalism, not from an Islamic perspective, was understandable, though not an approach Muslims would willingly adopt.
The purpose of the media attacks on Islam
The open season on Islam and Muslims in the media appears to be about values: that Muslims must adopt the dominant values of the host society, rather than retaining and strengthening their own, which is what had happened under the policy of multiculturalism that existed in many European countries as well as others.
The debate about multiculturalism emerged in Britain around 2004 and was concluded almost as soon as it started. A dominant consensus had rapidly emerged that multiculturalism was wrong, and that ‘new’ cultures to Britain could – and should – be challenged critically, whilst British culture and values should be strengthened in the media and through institutions like schools.
One prominent western think tank Civitas articulated its concern with this policy in 2004 saying: “it is not enough for the vast majority of decent, peaceful, law-abiding Muslims to renounce terror in principle… If they choose to live in Western liberal democratic societies, they must accept the values of liberal democracy-as Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and others have done for many years”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel seemed to echo this back in October 2010, saying that the “approach of saying, ‘Well, let’s just go for a multicultural society, let’s coexist and enjoy each other,’ this very approach has failed, absolutely failed.”
In 2008, David Cameron, speaking before he was Prime Minister, argued “State multiculturalism is a wrong-headed doctrine that has had disastrous results. It has fostered difference between communities. It would provide succour to the separatists who want to isolate and divide communities from the mainstream.”
But the consensus seemed to end as to how to define and promote ‘Britishness’. Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali once voiced concerns that Britain was divided between those who held predominantly secular liberal ‘enlightenment’ values, and those who held more traditional values rooted in Britain’s Christian heritage. This split is manifest throughout Europe when Angela Merkel faced the criticism, when she said German values were ‘Judeo-Christian’.
Many commentators were aware that Muslims now comprised significant and growing minorities in European countries, and voiced fears that this confident adherence to Islamic values in a Europe that was not confident about its own, could mean that in decades to come those Islamic values will be more visible in society.
All of this was set against the backdrop of 9/11, the Madrid and London bombings, which allowed the two issues to become conflated, giving urgency to issues of integration and assimilation they had never had before.
Consequently parody, vilification and one-sided debates about Islam became the norm in some quarters, arguably leading to the kind of hate crime described in the report.
The effects of these media attacks
Amongst Muslims there can be said to be two reactions.
Firstly, anger at yet more attacks on Islam and the feeling that there is nothing that can be done to satisfy the unending demands of the liberal hawks.
Secondly, there is, mainly amongst an older generation, a fear not to speak out or rock the boat.
For Muslims as a whole, the attacks may force them to question why they should bother to put up with the abuse. But to date most seem to have answered this question with a firmer conviction in the belief in their Creator, and the way of life brought by His Messenger (saw).
So the consequence of nearly ten years of demonisation in the West has produced Muslims who have an ever greater yearning for knowing Islamic views on every issue – the exact opposite of what it was intended for Muslims.
No easy answers
But for the majority non-Muslim society there are no easy answers to this conundrum in Europe.
Ordinary people, faced with being told repeatedly by the media they trust for information that Muslims are a threat and Islam is bad, appear to be increasingly convinced by this false argument. Indeed, to do otherwise might even be seen as irrational by some of them.
And if they see real examples of bad Muslim behaviour people believe the propaganda more.
By contrast if they see examples of good Muslim behaviour, based upon Islam, or understand what Islam really is, it might diminish some of the effect of the propaganda.
Those with little experience of Muslims in day-to-day life, often have the greatest fears, which are then reinforced and exploited by odious politicians.
The Biggest Questions
But the bigger questions remain for non-Muslim societies.
When they let Muslims choose their values – under the policy of multiculturalism, Muslims chose Islamic values and identity; which shocked the establishment and shook their confidence in their own values.
And after they started a policy of radical secular assimilation, Muslims seem to have become more decisive in their choice of Islamic values, albeit with greater grievance at the way they are ordered to ‘convert’ to western values, leave the country, or accept they will be cast into political oblivion – a sort of modern day inquisition.
Europe has to decide what kind of countries they want. At present the dominant view is to compel Muslims to adopt their core secular beliefs.
If this is to continue and Muslims are not to be afforded the same status as other citizens, with their distinct beliefs, views and behaviours not to be accommodated, the likely result would be more vilification of Islam and Muslims, and perhaps more of the anti-Muslim hate crime presented in the report.
The writer, David Hayes wrote in 2008 that the alternatives for Britain might be characterised as either ‘Radical Secularism’ or ‘Radical Multiculturalism’ saying that, regarding the latter: “The closest historic parallel to the model may be that of the Ottoman empire where religious communities (Armenians, Jews, Greeks) had a high degree of internal autonomy”.
Some may see it as ironic that a state whose values were built on Islam, the Caliphate, developed a model of tolerance and harmony by accommodating other religious communities that were its citizens. Such a tradition goes back to the teaching of the Messenger of Allah (saw), and reflects the confidence Islam has in its beliefs and values.
By contrast secular Europe is slipping back into a narrow, more aggressive, identity – not only felt by Muslims, but by others, including the Roma gypsy community in France.
This may not be a matter that can be settled by empirical research. However, such research might just help show radical secularists the counter productive manner of their approach; which has created a more unfair, unjust and divided Europe, but at the same time strengthens the adherence of Muslims to their values.