Economic instability is creating a climate where Muslims are scapegoated for society’s problems, says SABBY DHALU
TODAY’S Stand up to Racism and Fascism demonstration is a very timely opportunity to place anti-racism on the political agenda.
This week alone we have seen a Budget which includes more harsh austerity measures which will lead to more scapegoating of immigrants.
Trevor Phillips is bizarrely suggesting that anti-racism campaigning has been detrimental to the struggle against racism.
But there has also been a victory regarding the so-called Trojan Horse plot in Birmingham with MPs slamming the claim that extremism was being encouraged in Birmingham schools — an excellent example of how Phillips is wrong.
The anti-racist and anti-Islamophobia activism by Muslim communities, trade unions and others put a halt to the ghastly racist campaign initiated by former education secretary Michael Gove.
But here is a reminder of what Phillips said about that national witch-hunt around the fictitious “Trojan Horse” claims: “A revelation that schools in Birmingham had been taken over by a small, religiously motivated clique” means that “children’s education is at risk of being sacrificed on the altar of religious orthodoxy.”
Here’s what parliamentary education select committee chair Graham Stuart said following the investigation into how the Department for Education, Ofsted and other bodies reacted to the allegations of extremism in Birmingham — apart from one incident in one school — “no evidence of extremism or radicalisation was found by any of the inquiries in any of the schools involved.”
The coverage of the “Trojan hoax” as many accurately described it, illustrates how Islamophobia and racism towards Muslims has become incendiary in society.
There was never evidence of a plot in Birmingham schools by extremists, yet for weeks in June and July it was headline news and discussed as if it was true, including on the BBC’s Question Time where Salma Yaqoob was rounded on by the panel for correctly pointing out the reports were false.
The education select committee has found in Yaqoob’s favour, but I doubt that this will dominate the news agenda or that there will be a special Question Time devoted to the facts or that Phillips will lead a documentary on the damage caused to Muslim communities in Birmingham and elsewhere by these lies.
Yaqoob has described Islamophobia in Europe as a “weapon of mass distraction.”
Except for Greece, the political Establishment across Europe is wedded to austerity and therefore the destruction of living standards that this entails.
They cannot accomplish this without scapegoats and distractions. After all, the Establishment will not blame itself for the negative impact on people’s lives.
So just like Jews were the chosen target of attack in the early 20th century, today’s principal targets are eastern European migrant workers and Muslims.
Instead of properly addressing issues such as unemployment, low wages, labour market insecurity, social housing and investing in public services, governments are busy legislating against women wearing the niqab — a piece of cloth worn by a tiny proportion of Muslim women, or against the construction of minarets, or competing in a race to the bottom on immigration with other political parties.
All of this creates a hopeless economic and political situation, the main beneficiaries of which have been far-right and fascist organisations.
Meanwhile, the mass media reinforces this through a constant drip of racist lies blaming immigration for problems in the economy or promoting negative stories about Muslims and Islam.
The Paris and Copenhagen attacks are rightly condemned and headline news, but on Twitter the hashtag #killallMuslims that trended immediately after the Paris attacks was not condemned by political leaders.
In addition there was no coverage on mainstream television news of the Chapel Hill attacks in North Carolina, where three students were shot dead because they were Muslims.
Imagine a world where the Paris and Copenhagen attacks were ignored and #killallwhitepeople trends on social media. This is the world that Muslims have to live in every day.
However Muslims are standing up against this. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement in the US, which came about following the police shooting of black teenager Michael Brown, #MuslimLivesMatter has also been trending on social media.
On today’s demonstration, many Muslims will join trade unions, Polish, Romanian and Bulgarian migrant workers, black families who have experienced a family member die in police custody and racist attacks, Owen Jones, Diane Abbott MP, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, Jerry Dammers and others in standing up to racism.
Phillips is wrong. Standing up to racism and Islamophobia is the only way to defeat racism and Islamophobia, just like standing up to fascism has defeated the British National Party and the English Defence League.
Failing to challenge racist myths on immigration or concessions to Islamophobia or any other type of racism, will only create a more racist and divided society and embolden the far right and fascists.
This year we marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. After the second world war and the horrors of the Holocaust were exposed the whole world said: “Never again.”
That means today we must stand up to racism and fascism and that is why we are proud to have called today’s demonstration.
- Sabby Dhalu is Unite Against Fascism joint secretary and Stand up to Racism organiser.