Life for many Muslims changed for the worse when Britain invaded Afghanistan 20 years ago.
Politicians and the media used racist language to brand all Muslims who opposed the war as the enemy.
Tony Blair, then the prime minister, tried to justify the war as a way of liberating the Afghan people from the undemocratic Taliban.
But, as Nahella Ashraf, an activist in Manchester, told Socialist Worker, “I have not spoken to a single person in the Muslim community who said the invasion was the right way to solve the problems of Afghanistan.
“We knew that an invasion meant the loss of Afghan lives and their freedom.
“We also recognised the impact it was going to have, not just on the Afghan people, but Muslims here in Britain as well.”
She added, “Britain and the US said it was going to be a really quick war and an easy victory. That didn’t happen, some Afghan people fought back.”
Nahella says Britain and the US relied on scapegoating and racism to justify their wars.
One lie was that the war would stop terror attacks in Britain.
“The occupying forces always branded Afghan people as backward, claiming ‘they don’t want democracy, they don’t want freedom for women’ and so on,” said Nahella
“This way they talked about the Afghan people had a direct impact on the Muslims in this country. Things were bad for Muslims already, but I think it got continuously worse over that period. We saw a huge rise in Islamophobia.”
Tahir Talati from Newham Muslim Engagement and Development told Socialist Worker, “Mainstream politicians spoke about Muslims as if we were terrorist sympathisers, just because we opposed the invasion.
“The truth is many of us knew it was complete nonsense that the war would save Afghanistan.” Nahella says the government will use Islamophobia as an excuse for the war’s failure.
They’ll say things like, ‘there’s only so much we could have done, the Afghan people are to blame, they didn’t want to fight against the Taliban’ and so on,” she said.
This will result in more racist attacks, claims Tahir. He said, “We’ve seen Islamophobia and unfortunately, we’re going to witness it again. The Tory government can make promises to take 20,000 refugees but how many Afghans have they deported, how many asylum cases have been refused?
“I hope today’s situation doesn’t lead to incidents on the street.
“But we’ve seen in the past what happens when we’ve got people like Boris Johnson spewing their hate.”
United in resistance against wars
The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan sparked a huge anti-war movement in Britain with protests hitting hundreds of towns and cities.
Nahella said, “For the Muslim community and any campaign group the main lesson from the movement is the importance of unity. We came together on the idea that we stand against illegal wars and Islamophobia.
“When we come together, what we do makes a difference. Britain wanted to launch a bombing campaign against Syria in 2013 but they weren’t able to do that because of the power of the movement on the streets.
“When former prime minister, David Cameron put a vote to Parliament to bomb Syria he lost that vote.
“That wasn’t because the Tories became humanitarian overnight. It was because they remembered the anger on the streets.”
Tahir said, “It wasn’t just Muslims who were against invasion, collectively we said ‘we should not be sending young people to their deaths, and we shouldn’t be inflicting large scale damage and civilian fatalities’.
“Our collective voice gives hope that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”