IN BRITAIN: Politics of Islamophobia vs. Hope Not Hate Campaign

Date: July 2011

What do Congressman Peter King, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich have in common with British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France?

Playing with Islamophobia!

In 2005, when David Cameron led the Tory Party, he was a moderate on immigration. But today, he is strident as he confronts a 74 percent increase in the Muslim population. “Britons, fortified by a much more active, muscular liberalism, would no longer truckle to politically correct notions of passive tolerance,” says the Prime Minister. Cameron conflates immigration, integration and security issues in framing the battle against terrorism as a culture war.

What Drives Islamophobia? A Vanishing Dream?

What did Cameron mean by “passive tolerance”? In Britain, Muslims were marginalized, ghettoized and segregated. Muslim clergy were given a free hand with their congregations to follow their interpretation of Islam. What the British refer to as multiculturalism, which often translates into ghettoization, has failed.

High unemployment, crippling debt and bulging youth populations among both Muslims and non-Muslims add to the socio-political complexity in Britain. Further, the Internet and social media have spurred high expectations among youth, inspiring and igniting people’s imaginations and dreams. But the dream is a far cry from the reality of living segregated, in squalor and often hungry.

Among Muslims, the death of a dream gives rise to a backlash from disaffected young Muslims who can’t succeed as second class British citizens. And a backlash against the immigrants from young Brits facing their own shrunken economic prospects for a good life.

English Defense League: Britain’s Counterpart To The Tea Party?

As England turns parochial, it gives rise to the English Defense League. The E.D.L., 2 years old, describes itself as “a human rights organization that exists to protect the inalienable rights of all people to protest against radical Islam’s encroachment into the lives of non-Muslims.” Tommy Robinson, 28 years old, is the reckless leader of the E.D.L. Jon Cruddas, the Labour Member of Parliament, describes E.D.L. as a “dangerous cocktail of football hooligans, far-right activists, and pub racists … who pose the biggest danger to community cohesion.” Yet, the E.D.L. has successfully organized 24 marches across Britain. Robinson exports his brand of nationalist vigilantism by starting embryonic chapters in Sweden, Germany, Netherlands, Australia and the U.S.

A bold, brash and edgy newcomer, Robinson has his finger strategically positioned on Britain’s political pulse. “I want to get six lads, all with burqas on, to these fancy villages — we’ll bring a CD player, blast the call to prayer and then let’s see how they (politicians) feel. … When it’s on the politician’s doorstep, that’s when they’ll do something about it,” he said. “When you’re thinking of the working class now, you think of the English Defense League.”

Is Robinson onto something? Maybe. Maurice Glasman, a prominent advisor to the Labour Party, told an interviewer that “Labour leaders must build a party that brokers a common good that involves these people who support the English Defense League within our party.”

Nancy Holm, a friend and former Bay Area TV journalist, who immigrated to Denmark and, as head of the TV department school of journalism, supervised news stories and documentaries of the cartoon crisis in 2005, explains:

“Any type of intense religious belief scares Europeans and shari’a law scares them. Instead of understanding shari’a as a code of good conduct, they think European Muslims want to amputate hands, stone women and generally return to a medieval jurisprudence. It is this European attitude that inspires some Muslims in Europe to respond with enlightened and progressive politics.”

British Antidotes To Robinson’s English Defense League

What is exciting for me is to see the rise of newer organizations like British Muslims for Secular Democracy (BMSD). Tehmina Kazi, who works for BMSD, asks in her blog: “The key question: Is hatred of Islam now acceptable?”

“When Julia Roberts converted to Hinduism, I don’t recall seeing a single comment piece that was dismissive of her choice. However, when Lauren Booth announced that she had become Muslim, there was a barrage of unimpressed responses. … Asking questions about individual political allegiances is one thing, but to insinuate that a white British woman could not find spiritual fulfillment in Islam — unless she was somehow ‘unhinged’ — is quite another.”

Kazi goes on to quote Sara Joseph, editor of EMEL, a British magazine for Muslims, speaking at a youth event in London, whose paraphrased words she finds particularly fitting: “Islam is not about demanding this and that. It is about serving your community — and that means everyone, regardless of what their beliefs are.”

Check out Kazi, British Muslims for Secular Democracy and the Hope Not Hate Campaign. Stay tuned to the next installments on European Islam.

The opinions mentioned in this blog reflect the personal perspective of Shahnaz Taplin Chinoy, Chair, Muslim Women’s Fund.

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