Boris Johnson is one of the most openly racist and Islamophobic politicians in recent British history. His own abhorrent statements aside, Johnson leads a party where multiple members have been excluded for Islamophobia, with a number subsequently readmitted. He has also U-turned on the promise to conduct an inquiry into the issue, instead now running a broader inquiry into “discrimination” which displaces the specific concerns Muslims have with the party – not to mention the lack of confidence many have with the chairman of the inquiry. Notorious Islamophobes such as Tommy Robinson, Katie Hopkins and Nick Griffin all praised his win. If this election was the “second Brexit referendum”, this should come as no surprise. The first was won by stoking the same racism and Islamophobia.
Islamophobia has now become part and parcel of mainstream political credibility. Johnson can say “Islam is the problem” and make comparisons between niqab-wearing women and letterboxes, and face scant political repercussions. Meanwhile Muslims experience surges in verbal and physical abuse in public spaces. Stories of violent attacks on hijab-wearing Muslim women abound – attackers have used Johnson’s rhetoric; I have personally observed increased aggression and physical intimidation in public, for instance, being followed on to empty tube platforms by men making threatening remarks. Public vitriol for Muslims has been bolstered and normalised.
However, focusing on ugly rhetoric barely scratches the surface. Looking at the Tories’ record and their near-decade in government already, Islamophobia is likely to continue to be systemic. At the hands of the Conservatives, thousands of Muslims in Britain have been locked into cycles of intergenerational poverty, stigmatisation by terrorist legislation, being barred from employment, isolated by racism and abuse, and silenced in public life due to state surveillance and racial profiling. Many of my Muslim friends and peers have genuinely been discussing whether they can see safe futures for themselves and their families in this country.
Up to 50% of Muslims already experience household poverty, and 50% live in the most deprived local authority areas of the country. The past decade of Tory austerity has therefore disproportionately affected Muslims, and even as the new government has promised to end austerity, their low spending projections of £2.9bn will in no way reverse its impact. Johnson’s government holds no hope for transformation, investment or increased public services in such areas.
The most sinister way that Islamophobia will be experienced under this government, however, is through the extension of the already mainstreamed depiction of all Muslims as potentially violent – which bolsters the counter-terror apparatus, and in particular, the Prevent policy. Prevent has been repeatedly condemned for enabling racial profiling by placing a statutory requirement on all public service employees to “look out for signs of radicalisation” in people they work with. In a context where radicalisation is associated only with Muslims, this has meant Muslims are 40 times more likely to be referred to Prevent than non-Muslims. Nonetheless, Muslim students, teachers, activists, patients and children, have found their names stored on a police database that treats them as suspects.
Johnson’s new government has promised, vaguely, to “keep our country safe from terrorism”, so it is likely they will not only continue with the current failing strategy but expand it in the name of security. Indeed, even whilst the government’s ongoing “review” of Prevent lacks credibility, we can anticipate the policy’s expansion because the government has already begun extending surveillance into Muslim people’s civic lives more broadly, through programmes like the Building a Stronger Britain Together fund to counter extremism. The fund finances theatre, sports and arts groups and was used earlier this year to fund the Bradford Literature Festival, which I pulled out of because such funding requires reporting back to the government and the monitoring of participants. It can therefore be considered a form of state surveillance of civic life. The government has an incredibly ambiguous definition of “extremism”, and the Commission for Countering Extremism’s definition isn’t much better as it begins conflating other equally ambiguous concepts such as “hate” with “extremism”. This means the scope of what is deemed “unacceptable” can easily be expanded.
We can also expect Islamophobia to be visible at Britain’s borders. The “breaking point” poster of the 2016 Brexit referendum foretold calls for the harsher border controls that this government has promised. Johnson speaks of the success of a “Australian-style points-based immigration system”, failing to acknowledge that Australia’s own border policy is deliberately Islamophobic and largely detains Muslims. Paradoxically, the Conservative government’s desire to harden the border against those seeking asylum comes without a call to change British foreign policy that directly contributes to the death and destruction abroad that creates refugees. There is no mention of ceasing arms sales to the Saudis in their genocidal bombing campaign on Yemen, for example.
Muslims are unsafe under this government. Giving Johnson and his ilk power creates a context where Islamophobia will only intensify. While many of us feel helpless in the face of this, there are things we can do. We can disrupt and refuse to take part in counter-terror rhetoric that criminalises Muslims: don’t take part in the Prevent review, seek for its repeal, don’t report to Prevent and don’t use counter-terrorism or counter-extremism funding.
We must also not let the results of this election mean that the broader left reacts by becoming more Islamophobic and racist. In the last few weeks I’ve heard many repeat the notion that Labour lost because the party did not understand the depth of the appeal of Brexit, with this being extrapolated into the mistaken suggestion that it was not racist enough. We must also resist the so-called Blue Labour moderation, which some see as the only legitimate stance for the party. This position of social conservatism advocates leftwing economics with implicit Islamophobia and racism. We must therefore agitate to ensure this Conservative win is a prompt to stop the normalisation of lethal conditions for Muslims at home and abroad, rather than the mandate to intensify them./thenationpress