Ifhat was horrified when a racist randomly started hurling abuse at her and her children at the Legoland theme park in Berkshire. She was even more horrified when, instead of defending her, other people in the queue joined in.
“There were other people on the ride,” she told Socialist Worker, “and they thought it was okay to start swearing at me. I was visibly a Muslim woman with children and they felt emboldened.
“It became volatile and scary very quickly, we were being abused verbally and no one came to our aid. My nine year old was just sobbing, but people are so comfortable in targeting Muslim children.”
Ifhat’s story is just a snapshot of how deep-seated Islamophobia has become.
A combination of Western politicians continuing to paint Muslims as an “enemy within”, clampdowns on Palestine solidarity, and scapegoating Muslims for spreading coronavirus are fuelling it further.
Ifhat says Muslims are facing “more and more” Islamophobia in their day-to-day lives. “Sometimes you’re just so exhausted,” she said, “you just want a ‘normal day’ with your children.
“You’re worried about your own mental health, worried about going out with your children. You’re worried it can happen anywhere. And often if you raise a complaint, you’re worried people will think you are trying to get something for nothing.”
Mohammed Pandor, the mufti of Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, says he’s “found that Islamophobia in general has gone away from the public eye and underground” in recent years.
“It’s subtle but there,” he told Socialist Worker. “If an Asian person puts in an application for a job and writes ‘Mohammed whatever’ on the top of it, he’ll get subtly sifted out.
“But if the same application has ‘John whatever’ on then it goes through.
“I didn’t believe it happened until I witnessed it, when it happened to me a couple of years ago.
“I used to send applications with Mohammed Ameen Pandor on them. But when I started putting MA Pandor—because it’s not an obviously Muslim name—I started getting interviews.
“I went for an interview to one local company in Wakefield. When the woman came out, she looked at the white guy and said, ‘Mr Pandor, we’re ready for you’.”
Studies show that people with a Muslim sounding name are around three times less likely to get a job than those without.
Western states built up Muslims as a dangerous “other” in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Launching a “War on Terror” helped them to justify imperialist wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East under the guise of combating terrorism.
And they also hoped to use Islamophobia to break opposition to the wars at home.
This allowed other states, such as Russia and China, to increase repression of Muslim minorities who have demanded self-determination.
Islamophobia “gradually increased because of the war on terror. They made Muslims synonymous with terrorism.Ifhat
Ameera, who supports the Muslim Engagement and Development group, says Islamophobia is “a way of justifying wars and invading where there’s a large Muslim population that’s strategically placed”.
“It’s the case in the Middle East, in Myanmar and with the Uighur in East Turkestan—I refuse to call it Xinjiang—in China,” she told Socialist Worker.
“I think imperialism never ended. If they were growing broccoli there, no one would be interested. Some of my Iraqi acquaintances say they would have been happier if there wasn’t any oil in their country.”
For Ifhat, Islamophobia “gradually increased because of the war on terror”. “With the war on terror, you can bring people of all sorts of different politics together because no one will rightly agree with terrorism,” she said.
“But what they did then, is make Muslims synonymous with terrorism.
“It makes people think it’s okay to be Islamophobic because you’re protecting society.”
How defending Palestine can make you a target
Like the anti-war movement in the early 2000s, the Palestine solidarity movement united Muslims and the left. And, alongside rage at Israeli terror, there was a sense of defiance against the British state’s Islamophobia on the last big demonstrations in the summer of 2014.
This mass support for Palestine horrified supporters of Israel. Since then there has been a concerted effort to smear the Palestine solidarity movement as antisemitic.
Islamophobia goes hand in glove with those attacks, painting Muslims as backward and bigoted.
Ameera left the Labour Party over Keir Starmer’s attacks on the left, including a failure to deal with Islamophobia and the clampdown on criticism of Israel. She agrees that the two are linked. “I don’t agree with Jeremy Corbyn capitulating,” she said. “He should have said what he said in his statement earlier.
“It’s made it worse for people of colour and Muslims.”
Corbyn had rightly said the scale of antisemitism in Labour had been “overstated”. But he later retreated.
Ameera pointed out how Islamophobia is important for many Israel supporters smearing the left.
And it’s not just Starmer’s stand on Palestine that’s angered many Muslim members and former members of Labour.
The leadership reneged on supporting self-determination for Kashmiris, who live between India and Pakistan. “We’re not happy about Kashmir,” she explained. “At conference, it was voted that we support human rights.
“Now Starmer says it’s a ‘bilateral issue’ between India and Pakistan.”
Labour caved in to supporters of the Hindu nationalism and Islamophobia of India’s hard right prime minister Narendra Modi.
Ifhat argues that, while the right wing is racist, sometimes there’s a lack of solidarity from the left.
“You’re very identifiable as a Muslim woman,” Ifhat explained. “But what’s happened to feminism? Why can’t Muslim women wear the hijab without it being oppressive and derogatory?
“People who are in inverted commas “on the left” still buy into myths of what Muslims are.”
As states ramp up Islamophobia, we need to show solidarity with Muslims, and to unite and fight for a reckoning with racism and empire.
Speak out and you can find yourself being labelled an ‘extremist’
Suliman Gani, an imam in south London, knows what it’s like to be cast as a terrorist for daring to be a politically active Muslim. He had campaigned to free Shaker Aamer, a south London man who was tortured in the US prison camp Guantanamo Bay.
Suliman was at work in St George’s Hospital, where he was a chaplain. “And suddenly I got calls,” he told Socialist Worker. “When journalists started ringing, I knew it was really serious.”
The then Tory prime minister, David Cameron, had declared Suliman was an Isis “supporter” at the Prime Ministers Questions session in parliament.
The lie was part of the Tories’ filthy, racist campaign in the London mayoral election in 2016. Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith claimed Labour’s Sadiq Khan had “extremist links” because he’d shared a platform with Suliman. Goldsmith described him as “one of the most repellent figures in this country”.
“It came as a shock,” Suliman remembers. “And then it was repeated without any verification. Straight away there was an impact. I was suspended from work.
“People I knew—friends—were shocked and worried about it and people started to look at me as a criminal.
“When I was walking down the street, I remember someone calling me Isis. I was worried the police might come at any moment and break down the door, then I would be sitting in jail trying to prove my innocence.
“It was painful because it sent worry to the whole family—I have children at home.”
Tory defence secretary Michael Fallon repeated the lie. And right wing BBC presenter Andrew Neil spread it to millions of viewers.
Cameron, Fallon and the BBC were all forced to apologise, but Suliman’s life had already been put in danger. It was fair game because he is a Muslim.
“What I really understood,” Suliman says, “is that this was nasty politics.
“I was a scapegoat because Sadiq Khan was running. The PM used my name without any concern about what would happen to me.”
Suliman had, in fact, supported Tory candidates at elections. “The Tories are Islamophobic, it comes from such a top level,” he said.
The war on terror has built on an older idea that Muslims “self-segregate” and don’t accept “British values”. This is a cornerstone of the Prevent strategy, which pushes public sector workers to spy on Muslims for signs of radicalisation and “non-violent extremism”.
This duty was made legally binding by the Tories’ Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015.
But it was first brought in by Tony Blair’s Labour government in the wake of the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005.
Blair had faced a problem. A mass movement against the war and imperialism united the left and large sections of Muslim people. In 2005, for instance, one poll found that 72 percent of people thought that British foreign policy had made Britain more of a target for terror attacks.
Prevent was part of trying to break down this opposition.
Alongside a police crackdown on Muslims, Blair dressed up the strategy as working with “community leaders”. It was part of reinforcing a false divide between “good Muslims” who support “British values” and “bad Muslims” who questioned British foreign wars.
And the cautiously worded Islamophobia in the Prevent strategy made it palatable enough for many liberals.
I was worried the police might come at any moment and break down the door, then I would be sitting in jail trying to prove my innocence.Suliman
Ifhat’s had first-hand experience of how Prevent targets Muslims. “My son used the term ‘eco-terrorist’ in a French lesson in the context of a discussion on deforestation,” she explained.
“He said some people would refer to people opposed to it as ‘eco-terrorists’. Afterwards, he said he remembered the teacher giving him a strange look.
“He went to school a few days later, he was taken out of a lesson and he was interrogated by two people he didn’t know.
“He was asked if he was affiliated to Isis. My son was just really frightened, he didn’t understand it or comprehend how it had happened.
“He loved his secondary school and suddenly had the rug pulled from under feat and had to question his identity, he was taken out for being a Muslim. And it’s like, ‘Wow, this teacher is teaching me for years and they don’t know what I’m about’.
“It was automatic—he’s a Muslim and used the word terrorist therefore there must be something wrong.”