SHAFAQNA – Nadiya Hussain’s account on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs of the everyday anti-Muslim prejudice she encounters may have come as a surprise to some people. It won’t shock anyone in the Muslim community.
It wasn’t so long ago that black people were viewed with suspicion and labelled as “muggers”. Today, Muslims are associated with “grooming” when the biggest grooming scandal has been in the Catholic church. To blame a whole race, ethnic or religious group for the actions of a few is racism – and this is what the Muslim community now faces. The Chilcot inquiry may have vindicated the millions of people, including Robin Cook, who opposed the Iraq war, but Muslims like myself who expressed concern about government policy will no doubt continue to be vilified as unpatriotic or even as extremist sympathisers.
The most chilling aspect of all this is that a whole industry has been created to promote Islamophobia and anti-Muslim prejudice. I was shocked to see a reportshowing that $206m (£159m) was spent on promoting hatred of American Muslims, and now wonder how many British Islamophobes are being funded by political groups or organisations?
Both the Brexit and London mayoral campaigns contained some ugly dog-whistles to Muslims – and some foghorns too, including from the prime minister. It seems there is a race to the bottom on who can be seen to be “toughest” on Muslims. Lynton Crosby has made a career out of it.
It is not only those engaged in politics like myself, London mayor Sadiq Khan or Baroness Sayeeda Warsi who receive abuse. The promotion of hatred and fear has been mainstreamed to the extent that there is now little outcry when a mosque is attacked, or when kids come home crying after being taunted for their faith, or when an elderly man like Mohammed Saleem is murdered. One recent survey suggested a 326% rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2015.
Every Muslim I know has a story to tell. We are resigned to being blamed and vilified for the actions of any Muslim anywhere in the world. No matter how often we denounce the horrible atrocities carried out by some fanatics, we are still associated with them. No matter that this is as unfair and ridiculous as associating all white Christian men with Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik because he claimed to act as a Christian, or blaming Christianity itself for the genocidal actions of Radovan Karadzic because he described his war against Bosnian Muslims as “holy”.
As a child growing up in the 1980s, the racism and rejection faced by my parents’ generation were fables from the past. I could not then have imagined a world where hate crime against Muslims in the west would be increasing, not decreasing. Western Muslims have been portrayed as the enemy within for most of my children’s lives. Let me be clear – I still feel Britain is the best place to live. I have faith in its people, if not always in its leaders. I take hope from the great anti-war movement and the Equality Act, and comfort in the self-deprecating humour, the general agreement that queuing is the polite and decent thing to do, and of course, Marmite.
This summer the burkini has been banned in Corsica, Cannes and Villeneuve-Loubet. My sister-in-law returned from a family holiday in Alicante in Spain and related how local residents tried to prevent her swimming in the pool, even going to the trouble of organising a public meeting because her costume was “too covering”. Police had to intervene, proving that even on holiday there is no respite from the hysteria. Our very own Ukip has now also called for a ban on the veil.
Theresa May began her premiership with a promise of making Britain a country “that works for everyone”. A recent House of Commons women and equalities committee report highlighting the discrimination that Muslim women face in the workplace is welcome. It shines a spotlight on a reality that up until now has too often been ignored.
So let’s hope May’s pledge will lead to a rethink of the government’s Prevent strategy, which is helping to promote suspicion of all Muslims and cause prejudice within communities. A human rights group has warned that Prevent risks being counterproductive, as children as young as four are being wrongly identified as having been “radicalised” simply because of the way they pronounce words or wear their clothes. When my son’s school referred a group of Muslim pupils to the police for being on a WhatsApp group – without even contacting their parents – my son suffered sleepless nights. He also asked me if he would be safe if he stopped being a Muslim. The irony is that Prevent fosters the very climate of division and fear in which extremism grows.
While coverage of the Labour leadership contest descends into bizarre conspiracytheories, the contest is providing an opportunity for some debate of this important issue. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has been refreshingly outspoken in his criticism of Prevent and its impact on Muslim youth. Owen Smith is a strong supporter of Prevent, and calls for more resources to be poured into the scheme, claiming it will foster better community relations in Britain.
Nadiya Hussain’s Great British Bake Off triumph is a great example of what integration looks like. But her experiences of anti-Muslim prejudice should be a wake-up call to all British politicians.
By Salma Yacoob