7 Days Remaining

Saturday 24th
posted by Morning Star in Features

Whipping up Islamophobia in response to terror incidents like that in Berlin feeds a narrative of division, writes SABBY DHALU

THIS week Europe suffered another horrific terrorist attack in Berlin, the latest of a growing number of such incidents. The Islamophobia and racism in response was almost immediate.

Within hours Nigel Farage was blaming Angela Merkel for allowing over one million refugees to enter Germany.

So emboldened is Farage, he had the audacity to attack Jo Cox’s widower Brendan Cox, after he correctly described Farage’s suggestion that politicians can be blamed for atrocities committed by extremists as a “slippery slope.”

Rightly many headlines, column inches and much airtime are devoted to terrorist incidents.

The blame for such incidents lies with the perpetrators, not with refugees or Muslims in general, as the far-right would have us believe.

Such whipping up of racism and Islamophobia in response to terrorism is totally counterproductive.

It feeds the narrative of division promoted by the terrorists, making terrorism more, not less, likely.

The best response to terrorism is unity against terrorism, hatred, division and racism, and support for religious and cultural expression.

The level of Islamophobia in Germany and other parts of Europe is on the rise. In early December, Merkel called for a partial ban on the niqab — the full face veil.

This is a racist concession to far-right parties such as Alternative for Deutchland. It follows similar bans in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Last week footage of a Muslim woman being kicked down a flight of stairs by a white man in a Berlin subway went viral on social media. The woman’s arm was broken as a result of this racist and Islamophobic attack.

Among other things, the year 2016 will be remembered for the sharp rise in racism in the US and Europe.

The election of Donald Trump as US president means the most powerful office on Earth belongs to someone who promised to build a giant wall along the Mexican border, the expulsion of 11 million “illegal” immigrants and “extreme vetting” for Muslims entering the country.

The Southern Poverty Law Centre recorded 867 racist attacks and hate crimes in the US during the 10 days after the election in November.

Every racist and fascist across the globe is emboldened after Trump’s election.

Steve Bannon — the executive chairman of far-right, white supremacist Breitbart News — has been appointed as chief strategist to the president-elect.

The new US administration is promoting a racist reaction that will further envelop the US and Europe in the coming months.

In Britain this comes on top of the last six months of a reactionary climate since the Brexit vote.

Many will have breathed a huge sigh of relief when Norbert Hofer failed in his bid to become Europe’s first far-right president in Austria earlier this month. He lost to independent Alexender Van Der Bellen by more than 6 per cent.

Next year could Marine Le Pen succeed where Hofer did not? At the moment polls show that this is unlikely. However three months before the EU referendum, Brexit also looked unlikely. So there should be no complacency.

An underlying factor in Trump’s election in the US and the Brexit vote in Britain is the fall in living standards.

People in the US, Britain and other parts of Europe are becoming worse off. The US population has suffered more than a decade and a half of falling incomes. This has produced deep political discontent and anger in the country.

Despite that, Trump did not win the presidency because of a surge in support for him or the Republicans. He was overwhelmingly defeated in the popular vote, trailing Hillary Clinton by 2.8 million votes.

A campaign of racism and scapegoating did not, in the end, win the day. It was the undemocratic nature of the electoral college that has given him the presidency, not the popular vote.

Clinton could not gain sufficient votes, particularly in the key swing states, because she offered no solution to the fall in US incomes.

Similarly Britain’s EU referendum vote took place in the context of austerity and the biggest fall in living standards since the 19th century.

The toxic racist messages on immigration from sections of the Leave campaign unfortunately galvanised part of of the population.

However, most people are clearly not willing to accept a reduction in immigration if it means economic hardship.

A YouGov poll in September indicated more than two-thirds of people are willing to accept current levels of immigration to retain access to the single market, if leaving the single market would result in job losses.

Immigration is not the cause of low wages, British bosses are. Figures from the TUC show Greece is the only country where wages have collapsed as badly as in Britain by 10.4 per cent from 2007-15.

In contrast, in Germany, wages increased by 13.9 per cent, which has experienced a much higher level of immigration than Britain over the same period.

Let’s make 2017 a year for turning back the tide of racist reaction. The UN Anti-Racism Day national demonstration on Saturday March 18 under the slogan “Refugees and migrants welcome — stand up to racism, Islamophobia and anti-semitism” looks set to be the biggest ever.

The event is called by Stand up to Racism and backed by the TUC and major trade unions.

  • Sabby Dhalu is Stand up to Racism co-convener.