The Tory government’s policy towards Muslims leads to ranks being closed and self-appointed community spokespersons wielding more power than is safe, writes Rabbil Sikdar
British Muslims leave their homes and go to war. No, not in Syria or in Iraq. No bombs strapped to chests either. It’s a war against prejudice and suspicion built from heavy propaganda that can define the life of a Muslim.
A suspicious glance from passengers on the underground, glaring headlines of newspapers, constant debates and berating. The country lives in a liberal democracy but for the Muslim community it feels like an Orwellian police state.
It’s ironic that Cameron in his supposed defence of liberal values, privacy and freedom of expression, has shredded these very things in beating the British Muslim community with a sharp stick.
Speakers are being banned from universities, workers in public services are being monitored for signs of extremism, children combed for the same, racial profiling is growing and with it racial discrimination.
There is a symbiosis between state discrimination and street discrimination — both feed off each other.
So just what exactly is liberal about the Prevent strategy? Universities are supposed to be the cauldrons of debate, where the right to free speech is exercised. Speakers who are deemed to be non-violent extremists are banned.
Surely if a speaker isn’t preaching violence then the content of their beliefs must be allowed to be expressed, however awful it is? Surely that is conducive for reform by opening it up to challenge? And what exactly is deemed extremist? The government hasn’t ever provided a definitive meaning for it, nor for what it means by “British values.”
Similarly, surveillance across the public sector is one of the most draconian and sinister acts in recent times. How does creating an atmosphere where Muslims are spied upon work in the interests of integration and Muslims feeling British, rather than alienated by the covert hostility from their colleagues now demanded by the government?
And what of teachers watching children for signs of radicalisation? Young Muslims with views on foreign policy — a massive thorny issue within the community that has been long undiscussed — will be too afraid to air these views. Will these views actually go away or instead get driven underground?
All of this is creating a regressive siege mentality within the Muslim community, hiding behind self-appointed community spokespersons wielding more power than is safe.
The government, by not having any community support, has empowered conservative Islam by making Muslims feel like their faith is being criminalised, rather than challenged.
And it does nothing to foster diverse conversations within the Muslim community where views that stray from the orthodox are now deemed as being views of government stooges.
Muslims who align with liberal, secular and feminist beliefs and don’t pin everything on foreign policy are maligned within the community and treated as traitors, silenced and deprived of a credible voice — that platform stripped away by not being seen as serious figures representative of the community.
For that to change, the government has to roll back its draconian measures.
Muslims fighting for liberal reform within their community, greater tolerance and religious pluralism, cannot fight their battle if they are penned back by the frustratingly blind and static approach of the government.
That does not mean working with groups like Inspire and Quilliam, as they lack credibility. Rather, Muslim groups with grassroots legitimacy have to be included in debates on fighting radicalisation.
Young Muslims might then be empowered with the confidence to speak out, not only against the government but against people in their community who insist that there is a one way to follow Islam and anything else is heretical.