As details of the life of Westminster attacker Khalid Masood emerge, so is a veiled and poisonous type of Islamophobia.
Few “respectable” newspapers want to associate themselves with the naked Islamophobia of Ukip leader Paul Nuttall and racist rag The Sun.
Nuttall ranted about a “cancer” in “Muslim communities”. And the Sun has frothed over “Muslim enclaves” in British cities.
A growing narrative focussing on Birmingham—were Masood lived—is being used to push a more sophisticated version of the same racist argument.
An article on the Independent news website earlier this week asked, “Why has Birmingham become such a breeding ground for British-born terror?”
And yesterday, Friday, the Telegraph newspaper ran an article explaining “Why so many Islamist terrorists have links to Birmingham”.
It was written by Emma Webb, described as a “research fellow” at the neoconservative Henry Jackson Society think tank. Her answer was essentially that there are certain areas with too many Muslims.
The Henry Jackson Society is deeply Islamophobic.
Its website currently links to an opinion piece by its associate director Douglas Murray blaming Islam and immigration for terrorist attacks.
In 2013 Murray claimed that London had “become a foreign country” because “white Britons” were a minority in 23 of 33 London boroughs.
Yet unlike the naked racism of Nuttall and The Sun, the Henry Jackson Society tries to mask its Islamophobia in statistics and carefully-worded reports.
So Webb used a Henry Jackson report released earlier this month to claim in the Telegraph that the West Midlands had “the second highest number” of convictions for “Islamist-terror related offences” between 1998 and 2015.
This report is the source for most newspapers’ claims that Birmingham is a “breeding ground” for terrorism.
But what Webb didn’t mention was that the figure given in the report was just 39 people.
The same report says that those convicted were more likely to have lived in areas with a Muslim population of 20 percent or more.
At the report’s launch event in parliament earlier this month, its author Hannah Stuart said this showed there could be “problems in isolated communities”.
Claims about “segregated” and “isolated” Muslim areas are just a more subtle way of pushing the racist idea Muslims are part of a suspect community
She pointed to the 2014 “Trojan Horse” row in Birmingham as an example, claiming that “Islamists were trying to take over and Islamise local schools”.
But these claims were proved to be false, and the letter that made them was a hoax. Two investigations into the schools found no evidence of a plot.
It’s also not true that an area with a high Muslim population is evidence of “religious segregation,” as the Telegraph described it.
Razwan Faraz is a former deputy head teacher at one of the schools targeted by the Trojan Horse claims, Nansen Primary School.
He told Socialist Worker, “I’ve lived in Birmingham my entire life except for the last three years. Birmingham is a very diverse community. It’s nothing like what the press are saying about it.
“At schools and clubs my children have met Sikhs, Jews, Christians, atheists. People here have got a lot more things that they share than things that divide them.”
Claims about “segregated” and “isolated” Muslim areas are just a more subtle way of pushing the racist idea Muslims are part of a suspect community.
That’s why the racist Daily Mail newspaper was able to use the Henry Jackson report to link Wednesday’s attack to “mass uncontrolled immigration”.
And it gives legitimacy to cops and politicians who want more powers to clamp down on Muslims.
Mark Rowley, Assistant Commissioner of the Met Police is the top cop you may have seen making statements after Wednesday’s attack
He endorsed the report with a written statement at its launch, praising it as a “highly useful resource for many working in counter terrorism”.
It’s clear that there are many preparing to launch a backlash against Muslims in the aftermath of the attack. A big task for anti-racists now is to reject and cut through the lies that are meant to justify that.
Ashiq Hussain, an anti-racist campaigner from We Are Bradford, has spoken out against attempts to use Wednesday’s attack to victimise Muslims.
“Experience tells us that this will be a testing time for the community. The media is in a frenzy. Racists feel emboldened. The general public are fearful, uncertain or suspicious.
“Politicians will no doubt use it to try to pass policies that would have been considered unacceptable at any other time. Voices of reason will be shouted down by the mob.
“The entire Muslim community will be expected to apologise and condemn in tacit acceptance of blame for the actions of one man. We will start to see Muslims labelled as moderate or extremists.
“There will be lots of talk of ‘shared values of tolerance and free speech’, whilst provoking rabid intolerance and discussing how to curtail dissenting voices.
“The counter-extremism policies that were considered too extreme to pass only a few weeks ago, may well now sail through without protest.
“Yet this is a brave community that has lived under draconian measures, a vicious media onslaught, attacks on women and the elderly, and the demonisation of their faith for over fifteen years.
“Muslims state clearly that this action was a violation of the Shari’ah of Allah, and Islam views life as sacred.
“But people should also be educated that Muslims have become tired of hearing of the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Burma, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Palestine, Pakistan, and Somalia.
“In today’s world some lives seem more valued than others.
“We ask the community to remain steadfast and speak the truth at all times.”