Last weekend saw the headlines dominated by another series of high profile police raids to round up Muslims alleged to be involved in “terror plots”. This time a halal Chinese restaurant in south London and an Islamic school in East Sussex were targeted.
The London raid last Saturday saw 40 police in riot gear descend on a packed restaurant. Diners were questioned by police under the Terrorism Act 2000 and 14 of them were arrested.
The raids on the Jameah Islamiyah school in Sussex involved no arrests. Over 100 police officers sealed off the school and searched it. Lurid stories appeared in the press claiming it was a “terrorist training camp” used to “brainwash suicide bombers”.
The increasing frequency of such raids, and the torrent of hysterical headlines that inevitably accompany them, can only act to fuel racism and Islamophobia.
Many Muslims are fed up with what they see as harassment of their communities from the police and constant demonisation by the media.
“People are a bit demoralised and are asking, ‘Why are we being vicitimised?’,” says Rania Khan, a Respect councillor in Tower Hamlets.
“There’s also a feeling of scepticism. We don’t know what has happened in these latest cases, but the police have made mistakes before - look at Forest Gate and Jean Charles de Menezes.”
There is also a great deal of anger that Muslims are being blamed for the fallout from Tony Blair’s wars, she adds, while the government insists that there is no link between its bombing raids abroad and terrorist attacks at home.
“The public is not stupid,” says Rania. “Even the British intelligence services told Blair that if you go to war, Britain will be under threat from terrorism.”
These views are echoed by Abjol Miah, leader of the Respect group on Tower Hamlets council. “People feel the government should take responsibility for its own foreign policies,” he says. “And these policies go back 40 or 50 years - it’s about oil and power in the Middle East.
“There’s also a lot of racism and Islamophobia which makes people angry and frustrated in the Muslim community, but Blair isn’t doing anything about that.”
The anti-war movement has played a crucial role in bringing together Muslims and non-Muslims, he adds, ensuring that people see through government lies and giving them confidence to fight back.