LADY WARSI’S COMMENTS ON ISLAMOPHOBIA
Tory chair’s claim that anti-Islam views are now seen as normal prompts warning of some Muslims feeling ‘apart from society’…
Muslim leaders tonight backed the Conservative party chairwoman, Lady Warsi, after she claimed Islamophobia had “crossed the threshold of middle-class respectability” in Britain and was now seen as normal and uncontroversial.
The Muslim Council of Britain warned the spread could be “the beginning of something horrendous” in a British society with an estimated 2.4m Muslims.
At Leicester University tonight Warsi claimed that parts of the press had embraced casual Islamophobia and that other parts of society including employers and even school children would be next.
Warsi said that people were fed up of “the patronising, superficial way faith is discussed in certain quarters, including the media”, adding that Muslims are too often baldly characterised as either moderate or extreme.
“It’s not a big leap of imagination to predict where the talk of ‘moderate’ Muslims leads. In the factory, where they’ve just hired a Muslim worker, the boss says to his employees: ‘not to worry, he’s only fairly Muslim’. In the school, the kids say ‘the family next door are Muslim but they’re not too bad’.
“And in the road, as a woman walks past wearing a burqa, the passersby think: ‘that woman’s either oppressed or is making a political statement’.”
“You could even say that Islamophobia has now passed the dinner-table-test,” she said, accusing Polly Toynbee, a Guardian columnist and Rod Liddle, a Sunday Times columnist, of invoking Islamophobia.
Her comments were the most strident intervention yet in religious affairs by a member of the coalition government and there were reports they had not been cleared by Downing Street. David Cameron’s official spokesman said: “She is expressing her view. He agrees that this is an important debate”.
Gulam Noon, the curry magnate, and Akeela Ahmed, chief executive of the Muslim Youth Helpline, were among other leading British Muslims to supported Warsi.
“Islam is under attack, there is no doubt,” said Noon. “It is the responsibility of the press, the government and the Muslim community, to deal with it.”
Ahmed warned that young people increasingly feel Muslims are viewed as being different or apart from society.
“I have Muslim friends who complain they go out after work and it is ok for their non-Muslim colleagues to make jokes about people with long beards or wearing burqas,” she said. “If you were to replace the word Muslim with black or Jew, you would be jumped on straight away as racist or antisemitic.”
Ibrahim Mogra, chairman of the mosques and community affairs committee at the Muslim Council of Britain, said Warsi was correct to try and tackle growing anti-Mussim attitudes which he said have been partly been caused by the public becoming “desensitised” to anti-Muslim messages in the media in the wake of Islamist terror attacks in the US and Europe while he said Muslims’ positive contributions to British society attract less coverage.
“When I reflect on the tragedy of the Holocaust I think about how the Jew was persecuted as a misfit and somebody not to be trusted, as an alien. The drip, drip of hatred and bigotry by the Nazis led to them being described as rats and murdered in a horrible way.
“This situation is nowhere near that but there is always a beginning for everything. I hope this is not the beginning of something that could be horrendous. We said ‘never again’ and we have to nip this in the bud.”
Others pointed to the rise of groups such as the English Defence League which have mounted violent protests against Muslims in city centres as evidence of growing bigotry.
Ghaffar Hussain, a spokesman for Quilliam, a counter-extremism think tank established by former Islamic extremists and part-funded by the government, said :”While Islamist terrorism and Islamist extremism pose a clear danger to our society that needs to be tackled, this cannot justify the demonisation of Muslims as a whole.
“British Muslims have a right to live their lives without fear of attack and without being discriminated against because of their religion.”
But Warsi’s comments appear to have riled parts of the Tory right. Lord Tebbit, said she should not have spoken out.
“I would have told her to go to our Christian churches and listen to what was said about her religion and those who practise it, then to the mosques to hear what is said in some of them about the Christian faith and those who practise it (or about Buddhists, Jews, or even those who have no faith at all).”
Liddle defended his right to attack Islam as a religion.”There has been a growing racism against Muslims which is appalling and undemocratic, but I think that stems from a failure to distinguish between Islam and Muslims,” he said.
“Having a go at Islam is fine, but having a go at Muslims, not all of who will agree with all its tenets, is not. I am an Islamaphobe if Islam is homophobic, encourages the subjucation of women and punishes apostasy.”
Gulam Noon, chairman of Noon products
“I haven’t personally come across any casual Islamophobia, but it is there, underlying. Islam is under attack, there is no doubt. It is the responsibility of the press, the government and the Muslim community to deal with it. When people talk about Muslims over the dinner table, they say this one is rational, this one is extremist. That happens. People should be more responsible.”
Akeela Ahmed, chief executive, Muslim Youth Helpline
“What she says chimes with me. Young people feel that Muslims are viewed as being different or apart from society. That has been an unarticulated undertone before, but since 9/11 and 7/7 the rhetoric has been more focused on Muslims and it’s not about being black or brown it is focused on religion. I have Muslim friends who complain they go out after work and it is OK for their non-Muslim colleagues to make jokes about people with long beards or wearing burqas. If you were to replace the word Muslim with black or Jew, you would be jumped on straight away as racist or antisemitic.
“I was on the bus on Oxford Street recently and police were arresting a woman wearing a burqa. Another passenger said they do it a lot because they hide things under there [implying a bomb or weapon], and started asking me why us Muslims are like that. They didn’t feel this was socially inappropriate.”
Lauren Booth, a TV presenter, converted to Islam in October 2010
“We have a really cheapened debate in this country about good Islam and bad Islam and we also have this idea that Muslims don’t like it here, that they object to Christmas and that sort of thing. In my five years in Muslim communities, I have yet to meet anyone who wants to ban Christmas.”
“I was at a bus stop in Richmond during the cold snap [when the bus service was limited] when a colonel type carrying a cane and I were talking about how there weren’t enough buses. He said he’d send all the bus drivers to Siberia and that would teach them. Then he said ‘those muslims, they can all leave the country too and go back to where they came from, they don’t like it here anyway’. I was wearing a loose headscarf and I was shocked by what he was saying.
“On another occasion, I visited an old college friend who I love dearly. It was the first time I had seen her since I had converted. Our children were playing together. She said things like ‘it was a dangerous religion, a lot of them are violent, it’s a bit extremist isn’t it?’ All those words that litter our speech were there. I thought, how do I begin to untangle that knot? She was shocked to hear that Islam was spiritual and that Muslim prayer is close to meditation and we wish well in the world.”
Ibrahim Mogra, chairman of the mosques and community affairs committee at the Muslim Council of Britain
“The baroness is right to bring this debate to the forefront. I am hearing of incidents of verbal abuse and attacks on Muslims more frequently than ever before and those that are carrying out the attacks need to be engaged. Protests against building mosques were unheard of 10 years ago and in fact people used to feel quite warm about the prospect. But now the opposition is very loud and vociferous. Take halal meat: we don’t expect non Muslim Britons to eat it, but the EDL portrays us as changing the British way of life. Halal is under attack and scrutiny in a way that kosher food never was. Every aspect of Muslim life is being portrayed as a non-British thing. We do not wish to harm our country. This is where we raise our families and this is where we live and work. The more anti-Muslim bigotry is displayed, the more we fear our young people will take matters into their own hands.”