David Cameron’s recent speech in Birmingham ramped up Islamophobia with its talk of how “misguided liberalism and cultural sensitivity” stop people challenging extremism.
Hamza Sharif, a student at Kingston University in London, is one of several students from Muslim backgrounds who spoke to Socialist Worker about their response to Cameron’s extremism speech.
Hamza said, “Cameron’s speech told me that Prevent isn’t spying on me as a young Muslim student.
“If I believe it is, that’s paranoia in the extreme or a conspiracy theory put about by the extremists. He gave the speech in a perfect location—Birmingham, the city Fox News described as ‘a no go zone for non-Muslims’. No paranoia there then.”
“So I should just accept my lecturer being forced to police me. If I grow my beard in accordance with Islam and get reported for “unusual behaviour” that is empowering as it protects me from awful people.”
Maz Saleem’s experience after her father was murdered shows the double standards over terrorism. It is always presented as something which is done by Muslims rather than to Muslims.
She told a meeting last month, “My father was brutally murdered on the road he had lived on for more than 30 years for no other reason than that he was a devout Muslim with a beard.
“Ukrainian fascist Pavlo Lapshyn was convicted under the Terrorism Act. He got 40 years for Dad’s murder and setting off three nail bombs outside mosques in Walsall, Wolverhampton and Tipton.
“After the recent Tunisian attack the BBC reported that in the past few years there has only been one terrorist murder on British soil and that was Lee Rigby, may he rest in peace.
“I asked them about Dad’s murder. They wrote back saying my father’s death is a far right attack, but Lee Rigby was killed in an Islamist terrorist attack.
“But what would the BBC say if an individual went round setting off nail bombs outside churches?”
Cameron’s speech said British values include, “equal rights regardless of race, sex, sexuality or faith”. If these are traditional British values it is odd that Cameron voted in support of the homophobic Clause 28 as recently as 2003.
Hamza said, “Cameron said the only thing we have in common is ‘British values’ and ‘all faiths should respect the British way of life’.
“Perhaps it’s not a British value that I speak Somali and Arabic at home with my parents.
“My father is a recent migrant to Britain. My mother is the daughter of a Cardiff Somali seafarer who fought in the Royal Navy during the Second World War.
“Is that British enough?”
Cameron claimed that Islamic extremism can have nothing to do with Western intervention since the invasion of Iraq came after 9/11. He appears to be unaware of a century of imperial intervention before that.
Hamza said, “Instead he tells us that views within Islam are the roots of extremism. Tackling extremism is ‘the struggle of our generation’.
“He wants us to believe extremism comes through a ‘process of radicalisation’.
“He needs to convince Muslims and non-Muslims that it is nothing to do with the most normalised form of racism isolating a group of people in this in country in the shape of Islamophobia.
“So Muslims need to sort out their own people and stop them becoming fanatics. In Cameron’s vision Isis popped out of thin air. It had nothing to do with a vacuum left as a direct result of US-British intervention in Iraq.”
Shaz Islam is a campus officer for Wolver-hampton University student union. “Coming a few days after Eid, Cameron’s latest speech was a stark reminder that the state is really going after one group,” he told Socialist Worker.
“I know people who take no notice when Cameron talks like this. They say, ‘What do you expect from him’. But we have to do something because the Tories are moving up a gear.
“We’re planning to make sure that whenever there is a Prevent meeting in the university it will be open and people who oppose what is being said can speak.”
He added, “Outside of the uni we have the EDL coming and we have the same thing with some Muslims just saying ‘Keep your heads down and they will go away’.
"But I think we’re convincing people that it wasn’t keeping our heads down that pushed the EDL back.”
Saba Shiraz is black officer at Birkbeck College, University of London. She said, “The weird thing about David Cameron’s speech was how he tried to talk as if he cares about ordinary Muslims.
“The most hypocritical thing is how he picks and chooses his Muslims.
“He goes on about Muslims not being able to cope with modern values, but he’s happy to be with the Saudi royal family who don’t accept any of the values he calls British.
“And when he talks about the British values we should accept, he’s not talking about the values his lot used to build an empire on.
“We need to keep pointing people to the root causes of the problem and campaigning. In Birkbeck, I’m planning an event where we’ll have Unite Against Fascism and other groups talking about what Prevent means.”
Zahra Abdirahman, a teaching assistant, said, “The only way Muslims can fight against the hate being spread by the politicians is to unite with everyone—Jews, Christians and non-religious people hand in hand.
“These divisions from the top, between us the ordinary people, need a strong response on the streets to be tackled and to stop the mainstream Islamophobia.”
Campaigners, education workers and students are resisting the Prevent strategy
More than 300 people went to a meeting at the Marxism 2015 festival on tackling Islamophobia. Many speakers denounced the Tories attacks on Muslims.
Catherine Heseltine of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK spoke of how growth in the fear of Islam has gone along with policies pushed by governments.
She said, “Immediately after 9/11 only 10 percent of people in Britain saw Islam as a religion as a threat, a Huffington Post survey shows.
“Since then that figure has just about tripled.”
Catherine said that Islamophobia is not just a human reaction to cultural difference. It has been purposely created by an Islamophobia industry.
“Remember the manufactured panic around gender segregation on campuses,” Catherine said. “The prime minister weighed in. Though strangely he never speaks about gender segregation at Eton.
“It turned out that Student Rights—which produced the report that started all the fuss—was set up by the Islamophobic Henry Jackson Society.”
William Shawcross from the Henry Jackson Society is the new head of the Charity Commission and uses that power to try and shut down funding for Cage and investigates Muslim charities.
Catherine said, “This is Islamophobia in the power structures, not like just a few EDL thugs on the streets.”
Rob Ferguson is a teacher in Newham, east London, and Newham Stand Up Against Racism convener. He said that state Islamophobia has been “taken to a new level” by the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act which passed in February.
Staff now have a statutory duty to report people who may be vulnerable to “Islamic non-violent extremism”.
Rob said that “the scariest clause is the one that wants us to report discussions on ‘Grievances to which terrorist organisations claim to have a solution’. That one clause wipes out any possibility of discussing imperialism.
“For example, there was a minute’s silence for the victims of the beach attack in Tunisia. All the Muslims I know at my school thought those murders were a vile, reactionary crime.
“Many also regard the slaughter of three boys playing football on the beach in Gaza by Israel as a vile, reactionary crime.
“Expressing the first sentiment proves you are a good Muslim, but expressing the second could get you seen as an extremist.
“Our teachers’ unions have good positions on Prevent but they are nervous. We have to overcome the tendency to self-police.”
A teacher at City and Islington College in London said, “None of the teachers interacted with our Prevent training at all.
“What teachers were saying was, ‘We refuse to spy on our students.’ We teach history and sociology and politics. How can we do that if people are afraid to talk?”
Robbie was a student at Newham Sixth Form College. He said, “They booked Ghaffar Hussain, who is head of Prevent in Newham, to do Prevent training. They tried to keep this secret from students, but we found out.
“A group of largely Muslim students who had been campaigning round issues like building the 21 March anti-racist demo decided to fight that.
“We did a petition and we were successful. They cancelled him at the last minute.
“These students then sent out a mass email, calling on the college to oppose Prevent.
“Three of them received suspension letters. This was a clear clampdown on students defending themselves and being seen as rebellious.
“A group of us petitioned for them the next day. Managers came rushing out and they were terrified.
“The best response to these attacks is collective working class action.”