Most of us do not need to read the many reports coming out of the European Union, government departments and think-tanks to tell us there has been a rise in Islamophobia in Britain since 9/11 and the beginning of the “war on terror”.
When governments kill thousands of innocent people in Iraq and elsewhere they have to justify it. One way they do this is to blame Islam for creating “fanatics” who are attempting to stop Muslims from accepting Western democracy.
The attacks on Muslims abroad are accompanied by increasing government attacks on Muslims in this country.
But it isn’t just ministers and the right wing press who feel confident to come out with Islamophobic comments.
Some supposedly on the left have also been happy to contribute – from those writing in the Independent about how the sight of Muslim women wearing the veil on the streets of Britain offends them, to Martin Amis talking about how “all Muslims must expect to pay” for terrorism.
And then we have the Oxford Union – one of the pinnacles of the establishment – inviting British National Party (BNP) leader Nick Griffin to talk on “freedom of speech”, echoing the same line we heard from sections of the left around the printing of offensive cartoons in Denmark.
Islamophobia seems to be replacing antisemitism as the principal Western statement of bigotry against the “other”. The pre-war Blackshirts attacked the newly arrived East End Jews, and today we have their modern equivalents going “Paki-bashing”.
This isn’t to say that we didn’t have racism pre 9/11. I’ve been called a “Paki” for as long as I can remember – but now it is about being a Muslim. “Polite society” no longer has to worry about seeming racist, or sounding like the BNP, if they are talking about Muslims.
The BNP have long tried to scare people with the idea that the country is being overrun by foreigners. But now you no longer have to be a member of the BNP to talk about these ideas – especially if you are talking about Muslims.
So Amis recently told the Independent, “It’s not unreasonable to suppose a [Muslim] majority is going to assert itself. How thoroughly, in what form, how fundamentalistically, we won’t know... But it has to be discussed.” Many of Amis’ supporters have since praised his “courage” in opening up the discussions.
So what does this Islamphobia mean for Muslims?
It isn’t just the questions, the staring and the constant public debate that we have to put up with.
We’ve had children being bullied in the school playground, women having their hijabs and veils torn off. Mosques have been vandalised – and there have been some violent attacks on those attending prayers.
The overriding effect of all this is to make Muslims feel that they have to prove their Britishness. It seems that be a “good Muslim” in Britain today you can’t have a political opinion.
It is as if to complain about the government’s foreign policy or its attacks on our civil liberties is an indication of our lack of Britishness.
Never mind that it is our very Britishness that gives us the right to speak out about what the government is doing in our name.
And Muslims are speaking out – and not just those who happily parade as the so-called leaders of the Muslim community.
I’ve lost count of the times I have sat with other Muslims in anger as we have been presented with yet another press conference by these “leaders” who tell us how much they agree with the government and what they plan to do to address the problem of “extremists within the Muslim community”.
These “leaders” may accept the government’s views but the thousands they claim to speak for do not.
You only have to look at the vast numbers of Muslims involved in the anti-war movement to see Muslims fighting back.
We also have organisations such as those campaigning for the closure of Guantanamo Bay and justice for the Palestinian people.
Many of these are led by second and third generation Muslims who are showing they have the confidence to lead the struggle against the last acceptable form of racism in Britain today.
But there is one thing that is going to stop this growth in Islamophobia – that is to bring an end to George Bush’s war on terror.
This is just one of the reasons we must ensure that the Stop the War demonstrations are as big and as loud as possible. Make sure you join us in London on 15 March.
Nahella Ashraf is chair of Greater Manchester Stop the War Coalition and a founder member of the Stop the War Muslim network. Go to » www.stopwar.org.uk