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Stop trying to divide us by using our faith

03 Dec 2019

Jews in solidarity with Muslims placard on the anti-Trump ban march in London via Alisdare Hickson / Flickr

Something dangerous has been furiously ignited this election which may be impossible to stop. It will have consequences long after the polls have closed unless we make an effort to fight it.

The right-wing press and the Conservative Party are weaponising religious discrimination for political reasons at the expense of all minorities. They are goading us into fighting with each other as to who has it worse, rather than focussing on the powers that oppress us all. If anyone had doubt of this, last week The Times published an article by a journalist named Philip Collins, who is neither Muslim or Jewish, which originally ran with the headline, “Corbyn’s antisemitism is worse than Johnson’s remarks about Muslims”. It went on to suggest that the Labour Party’s racism was “thoughtful and systematic rather than ignorant and erratic” like the Tories’ racism. 

Given that the Tories have overseen the ruthless and wrongful deportation of the Windrush generation (which is still ongoing), the Conservative Party manifesto doubles down on their harsh hostile environment rhetoric, and the current MPs and the leader are normalising hate speech, it’s clear that racism is not an unintended byproduct of their politics. It’s their end goal. The rest of The Times’ article – much like the discourse elsewhere in the press – ignores this recent history. Instead, it attempts to link the two faiths with two different political parties and place the importance of one kind of prejudice over another. The intent behind this seems to be to create dissension between Muslims and Jews.

Still via Liberal Democrats / Twitter

For nearly 20 years Islam has been continuously in the spotlight. It’s been incessantly scapegoated by the far right. As far back as 2011, Baroness Warsi observed that Islamophobia had “passed the dinner party test” and statistics from this year show that 31% of the population believe Islam is a threat to the British way of life. Disinformation is rife among Conservative party membership. A staggering two-thirds of them actually believe parts of Britain are under sharia law. Muslims in Britain have experienced the consequences of this, from outright violence and suspicions of terrorism to jokes about our attire. Our current prime minister is on record commenting that it was only natural for the public to be scared of Islam.

“As a British Muslim, I have heard Islam as a whole being linked to terrorism ever since 9/11”

It is also extraordinary that the many cases of antisemitism in the Conservative party and Boris Johnson’s links to the antisemitic nationalist Victor Orban and former Trump aid Steve Bannon are rarely commented on. To make matters worse, last week, former Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May unveiled a statue of the MP Nancy Astor, a woman who was known for Nazi sympathies. This has received little to no criticism.

As bad as they are, it’s not just the Tories sending out divisive dog whistles. The Liberal Democrat Press Office released (and then quickly removed) a video of a caricature puppet Jeremy Corbyn wearing a desert camouflage jacket. The imagery here hints at military action in the Middle East and is reminiscent of the often-heard refrain that Jeremy is a “terrorist sympathiser” – a claim pushed relentlessly by the right-wing press. As a British Muslim, I have heard Islam and the Middle East as a whole being linked to terrorism ever since 9/11. It doesn’t matter that Muslims are a diverse group who vote across the spectrum, we are all being dragged into this narrative against our will.

The British Muslim Council has been calling out Islamophobia in the Conservative Party for years and this has, until very recently, been mostly ignored. Laura Kuenssberg, BBC journalist and a woman who is again neither Jewish, Muslim (or impartial), commented that compared to this, the reports of antisemitism were “of a different order”. Michael White in The New European trivialised the British Muslim Council’s statement on Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, writing: “Predictably the Muslim Council of Britain piled in with retaliatory complaints”. These examples show the way in which journalists are helping to drive a wedge between the two faiths, and ethnic minorities for political point-scoring. 

With all of these loud voices, who may not have our best interests at heart, sometimes they actually undermine our struggles even when vocally opposing them. Take a recent case ofn Labour candidate, Peymana Assad, who was criticised for her use of the word “gassed”, in an old tweet back in 2012. Being attacked online by the likes of the Daily Mail over completely unrelated slang predominantly used by black and Asian young people does not help us adequately address antisemitism. Yet it was reported widely. 

As Sunday’s Stamford Hill attack on a local rabbi shows, it is vital we acknowledge that antisemitism exists in society, across the political spectrum and within different communities and make all efforts to extinguish it when we see it. We must amplify Jewish voices alongside our own rather than shout down the entire conversation. 

“It is extraordinary that the many cases of antisemitism in the Conservative party and Boris Johnson’s links to the antisemitic nationalist Victor Orban are rarely commented on”

Ironically, on the day the Labour Party’s Race and Faith Manifesto launched, a letter from an organisation, the Hindu Council, agreeing with Rabbi Mirvi’s stance on the Labour Party and linking Muslims to child abuse, was tweeted by an ITV political correspondent as representative of the “Hindu Community”. It became apparent that most British Hindus seeing this letter had either never heard of the “Hindu Council” or recognised it as a far-right platform that did not represent them in any way. Despite many high profile British Indians on Twitter informed those posting the letter that it did not represent them and an open letter titled Indians against Tory Division, signed by over 100 British Indians, the “Hindu Council” letter was picked up by the political editor of The Sun, who displayed a letter from the Sikh Federation and joked, “Just the Jedis left to come and that’s a religious full house. Take a bow”. The contents of the letter, that discrimination against Sikhs is often overlooked, was ignored.

Throughout colonial history, people of different faiths have never fared well when pitted against each other. During the Indian Partition, Hindus and Muslims were deliberately antagonised, resulting in over a million deaths and tensions that last to this day. Divide and rule is a well-used tactic and the minority that is held up as more important by the establishment is alienated from its allies, while the other minorities remain unheard and oppressed.

On a day when the most exciting manifesto on race in my life had been published – a manifesto which included the policy of teaching the injustices of the British Empire in our education system – it was overshadowed by white, privileged journalists shouting over other minority voices. We were not allowed the room to speak for ourselves, to discuss how a balanced view of this country’s history might help us figure out what is so desperately wrong with the present.. Do people realise how dangerous this is? The oppression olympics only helps those who discriminate against all of us, let’s reclaim the conversation to become about our liberation.  

The far right is on the rise. During this election, a synagogue has been targeted by a Nazi sympathiser wanting to blow it up “to start a race war”. In the Conservative manifesto, there are policies that threaten the safety of the traveller community. Also in the manifesto is the rather vague yet alarming intention to change our very constitution. In his article for The Times, Philip made reference to “the Muslim question”. Boris has made it clear from his many dehumanising anti-black comments that he is a danger to black people in Britain. And, antisemitism haunts the Jewish community.

We need to take ownership of this conversation and develop a united front. Every time they throw around the words “Jews”, “Muslims”, “Hindus”, “Sikhs”, in the run-up to the election accompanied by populist content, it attracts the attention of the far right. And the far right hates all of us.