Every year during Islamophobia Awareness Month, NGOs across the country begin to highlight the multitude of ways Muslims face discrimination while going about their day to day lives.What usually takes centre stage are the acts of violence and hostility that Muslims face on the streets of Britain. However, not enough attention is drawn to the legislative and political environment that enables and even facilitates such violence.
By glossing over how Muslims are portrayed and treated in legislation and policy – and the troubling effect this has on how we perceive ourselves – makes calls for equality ring hollow within a toxic ‘War on Terror’ paradigm.
Islamophobia is deeply embedded in Britain
Hatred, suspicion, fear and a general avoidance of Islam and Muslims, is something that is far broader and pervasive than street violence, though this is it’s sharp-edged manifestation.
If we genuinely desire to end these acts against Muslims, we must look at the structural roots of Islamophobia.
This demands a deep and honest understanding of the history of Britain’s encounters with Muslims, and how the government has shaped the way its citizens interact with Islam.
This has reached its apex currently with the ‘War on Terror’, which has heralded a legislative environment in the UK that aims to separate the co-called ‘good’ Muslims – based on certain markers of what is acceptable belief and what is not – and ‘bad’ or ‘dangerous’ Muslims.
This sifting of Muslims based on notions of belief, takes place against a backdrop that features a highly securitised discourse around Islam.
This effort also seeks to criminalise parts of Islamic belief that demand that Muslims speak up for social justice, since in doing so these Muslims threaten or show up the weaknesses of the current paradigm.
How the ‘War on Terror’ excuses Islamophobia
Because the end goal of these efforts is quite simply to sustain state power, enormous economic and political capital has been invested into the sectors of security, counter-extremism and media, all of which adopt a similar and at times deeply collaborative approach in their treatment of Muslims as suspects.
The ‘War on Terror’ has brought about a raft of counter-terrorism legislation (almost one new law a year on average) and policies such as PREVENT, which reinforce securitised narratives about Islam, and compel public sector workers to implement a discriminatory approach to Muslims, which has seen children as young as four criminalised.
PREVENT, and its global counterpart, CVE, function at great profit to their proponents through consistently perpetrating the following assumptions:
- Islam causes violence
- The more Islamic you are in outward belief and behaviour, the more likely you are to be an “extremist” and therefore commit violence
- To this end, all visibly practicing Muslims are potential terrorists and must be treated with suspicion.
This formula at the structural and legislative level primes and legitimises street level hate.
We must keep our eyes on the laws that enable Islamophobia
If we are to address Islamophobia we need to keep our eye on the legislation and policies that legitimise it, no matter how sugar-coated these policies may appear.
Acts of ‘anti-Muslim hatred or ‘hate crime’, also need to be addressed, but within a criminal law framework.
The real challenge is to address Islamophobia as it exists in a system of laws, attitudes and policies designed to exclude and discriminate against Muslims.
With the passing through of the draconian CTBS Bill, we anticipate more cases will be brought to our attention and added to our compelling evidence base.
Beyond the human stories, the statistics also reflect this reality: Muslims are 50 times more likely to be referred to PREVENT, even though in the overwhelming majority of the cases, 95%, there has been no cause for concern.
Shockingly, Europol statistics show that out of 200 acts of political violence in Europe recorded last year, only two were committed by Muslims. And yet the entire CVE industry is geared towards criminalising Islamic belief.
This is the month to accelerate our calls for change
Change begins with a deep acknowledgement that street level Islamophobic violence is simply a manifestation of a deeper structural malaise: the incessant efforts of powerful sectors (media, security and counter-extremism lobby groups) to exceptionalise Muslims – and sometimes in very pleasant sounding ways.
Yes, this is a month to for all Muslims to speak up for the beauty of Islam in their everyday lives, but part of this beauty is showing courage: there must be a united and sustained demand for an end to the current Islamophobic legal framework, the PREVENT-led CVE agenda, and the ongoing violations of the rule of law that have come to characterise the ‘War on Terror’.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)