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Seumas Milne: Islamophobia is a threat to us all

Seamus Milne

Seumas Milne

A great piece by Seumas Milne on the rising tide of Islamophobia in Britain and why it has to be confronted.

This Tide of anti-Muslim Hatred is a threat to us all

If young British Muslims had any doubts that they are singled out for special treatment in the land of their birth, the punishments being meted out to those who took part in last year’s London demonstrations against Israel’s war on Gaza will have dispelled them. The protests near the Israeli ­embassy at the height of the onslaught were angry: bottles and stones were thrown, a ­Starbucks was trashed and the police employed unusually violent tactics, even by the standards of other recent confrontations, such as the G20 protests.

But a year later, it turns out that it’s the sentences that are truly exceptional. Of 119 people arrested, 78 have been charged, all but two of them young ­Muslims (most between the ages of 16 and 19), according to Manchester University’s Joanna Gilmore, even though such figures in no way reflect the mix of those who took part. In the past few weeks, 15 have been convicted, mostly of violent disorder, and jailed for between eight months and two-and-a-half years – ­having switched to guilty pleas to avoid heavier terms. Another nine are up to be sentenced tomorrow.

The severity of the charges and sentencing goes far beyond the official response to any other recent anti-war demonstration, or even the violent stop the City protests a decade ago. So do the arrests, many of them carried out months after the event in dawn raids by dozens of police officers, who smashed down doors and handcuffed family members as if they were suspected terrorists. Naturally, none of the more than 30 complaints about police ­violence were upheld, even where video ­evidence was available.

Nothing quite like this has happened, in fact, since 2001, when young Asian Muslims rioted against extreme rightwing racist groups in Bradford and other northern English towns and were subjected to heavily disproportionate prison terms. In the Gaza protest cases, the judge has explicitly relied on the Bradford precedent and repeatedly stated that the sentences he is handing down are intended as a deterrent.

For many in the Muslim community, the point will be clear: not only that these are political sentences, but that different rules apply to Muslims, who take part in democratic protest at their peril. It’s a dangerous message, especially given the threat from a tiny minority that is drawn towards indiscriminate violence in response to Britain’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and rejects any truck with mainstream politics.

But it’s one that is constantly ­reinforced by politicians and parts of the media, who have increasingly blurred the distinction between violent and non- violent groups, demonised Islamism as an alien threat and branded as extremist any Muslim leader who dares to campaign against western foreign policy in the Muslim world. That’s reflected in the government’s targeting of “nonviolent extremism” and lavish funding of anti-Islamist groups, as well as in Tory plans to ban the nonviolent Hizb ut-Tahrir and crack down ever harder on “extremist written material and speech”.

In the media, it takes the form of relentless attempts to expose ­Muslims involved in wider politics as secret fanatics and sympathisers with ­terrorism. Next week, Channel 4 ­Dispatches plans to broadcast the latest in a series of undercover documentaries aimed at revealing the ugly underside of British Muslim political life. In this case, the target is the predominantly British-Bangladeshi Islamic Forum of Europe. From material sent out in advance, the aim appears to be to show the IFE is an “entryist” group in legitimate east ­London politics – and unashamedly Islamist to boot.

As recent research co-authored by the former head of the Metropolitan police special branch’s Muslim contact unit, Bob Lambert, has shown, such ubiquitous portrayals of Muslim ­activists as “terrorists, sympathisers and subversives” (all the while underpinned by a drumbeat campaign against the nonexistent Afghan “burka”) are one factor in the alarming growth of ­British Islamophobia and the rising tide of anti-Muslim violence and hate crimes that stem from it.

Last month’s British Social Attitudes survey found that most people now regard Britain as “deeply divided along religious lines”, with hostility to Muslims and Islam far outstripping such attitudes to any other religious group. On the ground that has translated into murders, assaults and attacks on mosques and Muslim institutions – with shamefully little response in politics or the media. Last year, five mosques in Britain were firebombed, from Bishop’s Stortford to Cradley Heath, though barely reported in the national press, let alone visited by a government minister to show solidarity.

And now there is a street movement, the English Defence League, directly adopting the officially sanctioned targets of “Islamists” and “extremists” – as well as the “Taliban” and the threat of a “takeover of Islam” – to intimidate and threaten Muslim communities across the country, following the success of the British National party in ­baiting Muslims above all other ethnic and religious communities.

Of course, anti-Muslim bigotry, the last socially acceptable racism, is often explained away by the London bombings of 2005 and the continuing threat of terror attacks, even though by far the greatest number of what the authorities call “terrorist incidents” in the UK take place in Northern Ireland, while Europol figures show that more than 99% of terrorist attacks in Europe over the past three years were carried out by non-Muslims. And in the last nine months, two of the most serious bomb plot convictions were of far right racists, Neil Lewington and Terence Gavan, who were planning to kill Muslims.

Meanwhile, in the runup to the ­general election, expect some ugly dog whistles from Westminster politicians keen to capitalise on Islamophobic sentiment. With few winnable Muslim votes, the Tories seem especially up for it. Earlier this month, Conservative frontbencher Michael Gove came out against the building of a mosque in his Surrey constituency, while Welsh Tory MP David Davies blamed a rape case on the “medieval and barbaric” attitudes of some migrant communities.

As long as British governments back wars and occupations in the Middle East and Muslim world, there will continue to be a risk of violence in Britain. But attempts to drive British Muslims out of normal political activity, and the refusal to confront anti-Muslim hatred, can only ratchet up the danger and threaten us all.

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  • Danios

    Excellent article. Thanks.


  • Hellboy


    How interesting that you failed to mention that Serb chetniks commited genocide against Jews and Muslim Bosniaks. Of course Serbia – a very enthusiastic ally of the nazis – was the first country other than Germany to be proclaimed to be cleansed of Jews.

  • Lou

    Dan…..Since Croats murdered Serbs during WW2, it was justified for the Serbs to shell Dubrovnik and torch Catholic Croat churches as a result……

    Well, YES! The Croats didnt just murder Serbs during WW2 nimrod. They slaughtered them by the tens of thousands – like 600,000 – at places like Jasenovic. Ever hear of it? Well I have, and I’ve read extensively on the subject. Even the Nazis were horrified by the Croats and their Anton Pavelic, as they didnt just kill – they seemingly to great delight in the most bestial forms of murder.

    And it made me ashamed to be a catholic. Lets face it people, religion is about POWER and control. Your Imams want it, and you give it.

  • Lou

    Here is a good example of moslem justice for christians in Egypt:

    An Egyptian court in the southern city of Assuit acquitted this week four Muslims accused of killing 61-year-old Farouk Attallah on October 19, 2009. In broad daylight and in full view of witnesses, the killers fired 31 bullets to his head before beheading him, in the busy village market placeof Attaleen, near Dairout, 313 kilometers south of Cairo. The dead body was then dragged in the street, accompanied by shouts of victory. Free Copts website published a video of the disfigured body (warning, violent graphic content: video).

    The judge presiding over the court on February 22, said that he was not satisfied that the testimony of the witnesses established that the imprisoned men were the killers. ‘

    After the acquittal of Mohamad, Ashraf, Osama and Ahmad Hassouna, there was jubilation in the court room, with shouts of ‘Allah is Great’ and congratulations from all Muslims, including members of the state security forces who were present.

  • Hassan

    Actually yeah, Lawrence is just comic relief. But he’s long since stopped being funny.

    What IS funny is these Islamophobes rave about protecting middle earth from the barbaric hordes, but never actually make fair moral distinctions. When Muslims conquered places they didn’t replace or forcibly convert the population. It took an average of two and a half centuries for the conquered lands to gain a Muslim majority. And there were very few Muslims to begin with in Arabia, so immigration had nothing to do with it.

    Europe already reconquered the mideast, and left their uncle tom dictators to serve in their stead at the end of colonialism. The right-wing wet dream of colonizing and changing the mideast already took place 100 years ago. The current situation is the result.

    It’s the Europeans who’s modus operandi has always been to kill or convert. Whereas our populations convert at a natural pace, their reconquistas and Israel-style nation-creating require the forced conversions and ethnic cleansing.

    THEY’ve been the Orcs this whole time.

  • Smoothie

    Lou says:

    >Of all immigrant groups, it seems the moslems are always the most demanding of the host country. We see this everywhere from England to Australia, and I could provide numerous examples. But alas, I am not a professional, and have not time for such things.

    Methinks you’re talking out of your bottom, Lou.

  • Dan

    Lou, I’m Pakistani, and at my relatives’ flat in Karachi, our neighbors are Catholic. I would be more than willing to take a bullet to protect them from harm.

    And Lou, your logic is astounding and retarded at best. Let’s use your logic in other cases. Since Croats murdered Serbs during WW2, it was justified for the Serbs to shell Dubrovnik and torch Catholic Croat churches as a result. Buddhists in Sri Lanka would be justified in rounding up Catholics during the 1960s as a response to the brutal subjugation of Buddhists in South Vietnam by your beloved Catholic fascist Ngo Dinh Diem.

    That’s the logic you’re employing here.

  • Ali


    You’re one sick individual. I suggests seeking mental help.

  • Hellboy

    I think Lawrence is really Radovan Karadzic….

  • Lou

    Oh, I might add that now the moslems know what its like for Christians living in moslem lands.

    Dont like it so much, huh?

  • Lou

    As long as the moslems walk through our streets with signs that say “behead those who insult islam”, “islam will conquer the world/Rome” and “freedom go to hell”, I suppose this is what they can expect.

    Of all immigrant groups, it seems the moslems are always the most demanding of the host country. We see this everywhere from England to Australia, and I could provide numerous examples. But alas, I am not a professional, and have not time for such things.

  • IbnAbuTalib

    I think its high time Lawrence banned. This guy is simply an idiot! Then again if he is allowed to post his drivel, we might get a few more laughs!

  • Should the Christian West not reclaim the Christian countries conquered by the Muslims over the past 1400 years?The Muslim Turkey occupies the largest: St.Sophia: Church in the world and has turned it into a Museum.The Muslim Mosques must be taken over in Israel and the West till St.Sophia Church is returned to the Christians.The christian West should stop pampering the Muslims and let them starve because they are basically lazy and waste so much time daily on robotic exercises called salaat.

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