The British state has used the recent killing of a soldier in London to whip up racism against Muslims. Racists have seized on the story to try and mount a campaign of terror against all Muslims.
Osman Deen, a student at Bradford College, said, “Islamophobia has got worse since the Woolwich attack. I know Muslim women who have had their scarves pulled in the street. There has been a lot of online abuse.”
Ayesha Elmahdi is a teacher in Manchester. “Lots of Muslims feel vulnerable,” she said. “They feel they should keep their heads down.”
This fear has meant that some Muslims fear going out, never mind joining protests against the racism. Rania Khan, a councillor in Tower Hamlets, explained how Muslims had contacted her because they felt unsafe.
“One woman came to my surgery and said she was scared about travelling to Whitechapel from Bromley by Bow, just up the road,” she said. “The number of hate crimes has risen. I know friends and family who have had bad experiences.”
Hassan Mahamdallie is an anti-racist activist and socialist who lives near Woolwich. He said, “Some people ask me, ‘Where are the young Muslims? Why are there not more out marching and protesting?’ I say if I was a Muslim woman wearing a hijab I might feel a little under siege.”
Many Muslims are furious that the government and right wing press has treated them as somehow responsible for the killing.
“I have been asked to condemn the killing in Woolwich,” said Rania. “Why don’t the white councillors get asked if they condemn it? Why ask me?”
Mukhtar Master, a council worker in Preston, said that the attitude of the government “feels like collective punishment”. But he said that, despite the deluge of Islamophobia in the mainstream media, the reality of life in Britain was different. “We know it’s only a small minority of people in Britain who want to cause us problems,” he said.
“My neighbour came round on the day of the Woolwich events. He wanted to show solidarity with my family as he sensed that what happened would be used to blame all Muslims.”
The government talks a lot about the need for Muslims to “integrate” into British society. In fact, they are not as separate as David Cameron would like us to believe.
“Muslims are integrated,” said Rania. “We have relationships with neighbours and people at work. People live and work together. I know most white people are not racists.”
Most Muslims are part of the working class—and face the same Tory attacks that all working class people face. That means there is scope to build united campaigns on many issues as well as racism.
“It’s pretty hard growing up today,” said Osman. “We have tuition fees and other attacks. And since the success of Ukip, Cameron and the rest are all talking about immigration.
There is racism among working class people, and this is what groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) have tried to feed on. But it’s those at the top of society who are the real drivers of Islamophobia and racism—and who help legitimise them.
Days after the Woolwich attack Tony Blair grabbed the chance to attack Muslims. “There is a problem within Islam— from the adherents of an ideology which is a strain within Islam,” he wrote in the right wing rag the Daily Mail.
“We have to put it on the table and be honest about it. This strain is not the province of a few extremists. It has at its heart a view that is not compatible with pluralistic, liberal, open-minded societies.”
“Shame on him,” said Osman. “He won’t accept that religious extremism is fuelled by his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Britain’s foreign policy. No wonder many Muslims feel demonised.”
It was the mass movement against these wars that brought many Muslims into political activity for the first time in Britain.
Up to two million people marched through Britain against war in Iraq on 15 February 2003—the biggest protest in Britain’s history. Muslims had taken a leading role in organising the protest and convincing others to join it.
The movement built important alliances between Muslims and non-Muslims. Hassan said these alliances were important in the aftermath of Lee Rigby’s death.
“I went to the mosque in Woolwich and talked to the Imam after the attack,” he said. “He opened up the mosque and started a dialogue with local people. The way working class and anti-racist organisations responded to the attack really helped.”
For Ayesha, the way to stop racism today is to build such a similar movement again.
“We need more Muslims to feel able to go on the streets and say what the EDL is doing is wrong,” she said.
“I saw that one mosque in York had invited the EDL in, and given them tea and biscuits. It’s very Islamic to be kind and open like that. But we need to rise up against the racists.”
Following the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005, the state and right wing press embarked on a similar wave of Islamophobia. But existing networks of anti-war and anti-racist activists were able to organise protests against it.
Around 300 people marched in Beeston, Leeds, where two of those responsible for the bombings had lived. Bishr, one of the protesters, told Socialist Worker on the protest, “The media haven’t been able to dig up the story of a divided community in the way they wanted to.
“The local Stop the War group together with the mosque and churches called a peace vigil even before we knew that the bombers were local. People knew we had to stand together.”
Hundreds protested at the Bravanese Centre in Muswell Hill, north London, against Islamophobic attacks last week. The centre had burnt down and “EDL” was scrawled on one of its walls.
“Local people from all backgrounds were there,” said Hassan. “A local school had made 400 cards to show support. If this attack was meant to divide people, it didn’t succeed.”
Ayesha said that joining protests helps to cut through the fear and division that the EDL wants to encourage. “I went on my first Unite Against Fascism demonstration earlier this month,” she said.
“I felt empowered by being a part of it. We need to be stronger. When we march and stand with others, we’re not scared.”
Muslims are not the 'objects of history'
The racists and fascists want to build roots. We need roots on our side. A lot of young working class Muslim people are looking for a lead.
They are not necessarily connected to local mosque committees, which can be seen as forums for an older generation.
Anti-racist groups and the left have to reach those people.
There is also a generation of people who have been through the battles of the 1970s and 1980s. We need to reach out to all of them too.
We need to be proactive. It’s not just about standing in solidarity with Muslims. It’s that we need Muslims in our struggles. This can overcome feelings of being powerless.
Muslims are not objects of history who have things done to them. We can be organised, and beat the racists.