Lacking a sense of irony, The Sun newspaper launched a manifesto against hate last Friday.
It said, “Too many have quit Britain to join IS in Syria” and proposed the government’s latest Prevent plans for spying on Muslims to be deepened.
The paper covered itself by saying, “The vast majority would not even dream of resorting to terror”.
There is little new in this. For over a decade a theme has developed on how to push racism and Islamophobia.
More than 50 people were killed and hundreds more injured in bombings in London on 7 July 2005.
Racism against Muslims stepped up to a new level. The day after the bombing The Sun talked of “peace-loving Muslims”.
It then said, “Britain is crawling with suspected terrorists and those who give them succour. The government must act without delay, round up this enemy in our midst and lock them in internment camps.”
At the same time The Daily Mail newspaper’s Melanie Phillips made the obligatory reference to the “vast majority” of “decent” Muslims.
She then wrote, “The root cause of this threat is a religion whose dominant traditions...have preached or practised...holy war.”
Either you can be “good Muslims” and accept Britain’s foreign policy in the Middle East and beyond. Or, be the “enemy within” and subjected to endless persecution.
Lurid stories of potential bomb attacks were used to justify police raids and shootings.
This deliberately created a climate of fear and led to Muslims being abused and attacked in the streets.
The newspapers and the politicians then as now argued that 7/7—or joining Isis—could not be understood as a reaction to Western foreign policy.
The British government’s support for Middle Eastern dictators, torture and bombing can be discounted because terrorism is built into all but the most “moderate” versions of Islam.
Prevent was launched in 2006. It saw Muslims as being, at best, passive about, and at worst, complicit with extremism. Areas with larger Muslim populations got automatic funding.
Several places produced reports saying that there was no evidence of extremism in their area.
So Muslims were considered targets of counter-terrorism whether or not there was evidence of extremism.
The Tories abolished demographic-based funding in 2011. Details of Prevent funding is now secret on the grounds of national security.
Ideologically there has been development—for the worse. Vague definitions of extremism, and a view of “radicalisation” as a process that begins with bad thoughts and ends in violent acts has become the norm.
This has meant the governments’s emphasis shifted from terrorism to violent extremism to non-violent extremism and then simply to values.
The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 enshrines this in law.
Witness intimidation, photo alteration and state lies - the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes
The ideological attacks were linked with very real physical ones.
On 22 July 2005 Jean Charles de Menezes sat down on a tube train in Stockwell, south London.
One police officer held him down while two others fired seven hollow tip bullets into his head and one into his neck. Three other bullets missed.
The police in general—and Metropolitan Police chief Ian Blair in particular—claimed that Jean Charles had been involved in a terror plot. They knew it was a lie.
The killing took place the day after a failed bombing attempt in London and two weeks after the 7/7 bombings.
Evidence was tampered with or removed. Photographs were altered to make Jean Charles look more like the suspected suicide bomber. Witnesses were intimidated.
The Metropolitan Police was eventually fined £175,000 after a health and safety trial convicted it of “endangering the public” and having failed “to provide for the health, safety and welfare of Jean Charles de Menezes”—a disgusting understatement.
The smears were endless. The Sun newspaper said that Jean Charles had raped a woman. His body was exhumed and his DNA showed that he had not.
Newspapers claimed that he was wearing a bulky jacket, apparently leading police to think he was concealing a bomb.
It was a lie—and just one of dozens.
Fight racist divide and rule tactics
The tide of Islamophobia was held back to some extent by the depth of the anti-war movement.
The huge protests against the Afghanistan and Iraq wars brought together Muslims and left wing activists.
That unity was hard to wrench apart.
In the days after the 7/7 bombing there were peace vigils around the country.
Two of those reported to be responsible came from Beeston in Leeds, Yorkshire.
Some 300 people marched and held homemade banners proclaiming that they would not be divided.
Bishr told Socialist Worker at the time, “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.”
As the march came to an end the protesters from Beeston came together with another march from another part of Leeds.
The state then took a twin track approach of trying to co-opt some leading “community leaders” while intimidating everybody else into silence.
The combination of ideological and physical repression took its toll.
But that unity is again needed against the racists’ divide and rule.