Will British Muslims Survive in Post-Brexit Britain?

The Islamic Cultural Center and Central Mosque in London (Photo: London Central Mosque Trust)

By  Irfan Raja

Is it unimaginable to think that British Muslims may have to go back where they come from? Sounds sensitive, but certainly a valid question to ask in the current climate. History describes tales of the displacement of Palestinians, native Australians, and destruction of Indians  at  the hands of British colonialists and in recent times the victims of British military adventures namely  illegal wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya therefore begs the question: will the presence of Muslims in Britain be tolerated any longer?

If English kings can be executed, Jews be persecuted and Europe can displace millions of them, then what is so special about British Muslims? Evidence shows that Jews were well integrated in Europe whilst Muslims gave Europe a prosperous and modern Spain enriching European civilization forever.

In the wake of the Brexit vote and particularly the recent tragic incident in London, once again calls are being made for Muslims to go back home are increasingly being heard at different platforms, particularly amongst the right-wing politicians and hate-filled individuals  across America and Europe.  Muslims are now deemed to be a grave threat. Given the evolving political and geographical circumstances, although it is an uncomfortable idea, it is becoming more and more likely that many British Muslims will have to leave Britain in the face of growing intolerance or at least will be forced to adopt secular values in post-Brexit Britain.

Recently, as Donald Trump’s calls grow louder and louder to be tougher and tougher on American Muslims and the declaration of a travel ban on citizens of six Muslim countries entering America,  British far-right party UKIP leader, Nigel Farage has endorsed Trump’s idea of a  “Muslim travel ban” and concurs with his viewpoint on “Islamic terrorism”.

Besides, the British Prime Minister Theresa May became the first foreign leader to congratulate Trump although her standing was not much appreciated in the British and America media. Perhaps, time will tell whether May and Trump have a relationship similar to that enjoyed by Thatcher and Reagan or Blair and Bush.

Many politicians in Europe follow Trump’s ideology,  for example Geert Wilders, a far-right politician who has expressed his intent to ban the Koran and all mosques in the Netherlands. Perhaps, these are early signs of more drastic episodes to come from far-right movements in Britain and Europe that are gaining more traction, coupled with ever-growing public support. Recently, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis prevented Muslim woman, Sevil Shhaideh, from running as Prime Minister.

This new wave of anti-Muslim sentiment provokes a sense of fear and heightened anxiety amongst British Muslims that are already struggling to de-stigmatize their community often tagged as terrorists, extremists and who incite radical thoughts within society. Mostly they are either linked with foreign radical groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS or presented as the “enemy-within”, “dangerous” and “untrustworthy”.

The sequence of events in the past decade or so have raised the Islamophobia thermometer to a boiling point. First it was Jack Straw’s comments on the hijab in 2006 that sparked anger and fear among the public and polarized views about the wearing of the veil. After the veil debate had calmed down in the media, Rowan Williams so called controversial remarks over the application of Sharia Law in Britain set Britain back in terms of its Muslim-British integration.

Ever growing Islamophobia in Britain lead Lady Warsi, a Muslim conservative chairman, to proclaim that “Islamophobia is now socially acceptable,’’ arguing that it now passes the dinner table test. Meanwhile, several British politicians such as Jeremy Browne and David Cameroon continue to support the idea of banning the veil.

More and more British people are viewing Muslims as a ‘threat’ and this increases with every incident that occurs across Europe and Britain. For example the London Bombings (2005), Glasgow Airport terminal attacks in (2007),  Woolwich (2013),  and also the Charlie Hebdo (2015) shootings, all of which aggravate anti-Islamic behavior and rhetoric.  As soon as British Muslims pass one test, another challenge awaits them. Enoch Powell’s controversial speech “Rivers of Blood” presented British Muslims as a future threat and now his sentiments have become a reality in contemporary Britain.

We continually hear the same old rhetoric that, “The British way of life” is under threat from Muslims because they are unwilling to adopt “our” values. Often many British politicians, media personnel and public bodies accuse British Muslims of creating “No-Go-Zones” areas and are less willing to integrate in to British society.  Many think that because of this many young British Muslims are being radicalized and that they might start to take over British cities.

On a more serious note, there is rising hostility towards mosques and accusations that the majority of British Muslims want to establish Sharia courts.  Media stories connected to forced marriages, child sex-grooming, social benefit frauds, and all sorts of social ills related to British Muslims are continually presented in the media and  further make them “outsiders” and “incompatible” with British values.

Past history tells us that this form of fear-mongering against minority communities throughout British history. These include  terrifying tales of witch hunts ,  the expulsion and the  persecution of Jews in the twelfth, thirteenth and sixteenth centuries and finally,  the trial  and tribulations faced by the Irish and Scottish communities during various periods of British history. Lest we forget that other marginalized communities and groups such as Roman Gypsies and Irish Travellers.

It may be shocking for many people to countenance the idea that Muslims may have to leave Europe one day. However past and recent historical events tells us that there is a real possibility of this happening. Spanish Muslims, Moors, were forced to flee from their homes 1492 and recently the genocide of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica and the present-day systematic exclusion of Serbian Muslims of (Sandzak or Sanjak) a Muslim majority province are case studies for those in possible denial of Muslims from European soil.

And if this wasn’t enough, the British Empire’s colonial past misplaced, tortured and mistreated Indians, Africans and native Australians. In recent history, before the British Muslim became new “enemy within” and “a threat” to British society, the ill-treatment of working classes and the use of disrespectful phrase CHAVS evidently showed that life could be a test for any minority groups at any given time.

Recently, racist attacks on Muslim women on London buses and underground transport have been characterized by the cutting and abusive phrase “Go Back”, a slogan that has also become visible in politicians speeches both in parliament and in the public sphere, such as Pauline Hanson’s “Go back to where you came from”. In chatrooms and on social media people have grabbed the initiative and are now debating whether the departure of Muslims is imminent. Is that the case because they are unwillingly forced to conform to and adopt non-Muslim values or is it due to the inexorable rise of far-right politics which abuses and limits the rights of Muslim people.

Whether the rise of anti-Trump campaigns can resist the far-right and anti-Muslim hatred or not is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. The damage has been done through the polarizing words of the now American President that has exposed the rhetoric of hatred bubbling underneath the surface.

Although there was massive opposition to the Iraq War from the British, Europeans and Americans it did not stop Tony Blair and George W. Bush from invading and destroying Iraq, which is even more lamentable given that the whole crusade was based on frankly made up intelligence that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction”.

Another depressing piece of news is the weakening of the liberal left in Britain that is increasingly unable to protect and resist ever-rising demonization and loathing of Muslims in the wake of the Trump presidential campaign. We need the Left to be a correctional force that educates misled admirers both in Britain and Europe of figures such as Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders.

– Irfan Raja is an academic, writer, campaigner and a volunteer from Pakistan who holds MA International Journalism from the University of Leeds and a PhD from the University of Huddersfield. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. 

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