In 2020, Muslims in Boris' Britain have an important choice to make
Comment: As the new decade approaches, Muslims, Jews, people of colour and all marginalised communities must make a conscious choice to unite, and fight for our rights, writes Malia Bouattia. Boris Johnson - to paraphrase Kanye West before his Trump days - does not care about Muslims.
And our government does not care about Islamophobia. In fact, they're all too happy to peddle, intensify, institutionalise it and delegitimise any resistance against it, all the while strenuously denying that it is happening at all.
So, when Johnson - a man who has made numerous unapologetic racist comments such as likening Muslim women to bank robbers and letterboxes or describing Islam as backward and a force which has hindered the western world - leads his party into an investigation over accusations of Islamophobia, it's common sense to conclude that it will be a whitewash. It's also imperative that we actively reject and vocalise our criticisms now instead of falling into the all too familiar trap of "productive engagement". Doing so would only lend credibility to a process (and an outcome) that will be - without doubt - a further stage in the normalisation of the vilest islamophobia at the top of the government.
If anyone needs convincing that this independent review is doomed to fail, look no further than the person put in charge. Professor Swaran Singh is a former commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission with a track record of contributing to online magazine Spiked - a publication that has given platforms to far-right figures, and whose editor has expressed that Islamophobia is "is an invented term" used to stifle criticism of the Islamic faith.
This is all likely to further undermine the legitimacy of Islamophobia as a form of structural racism
Furthermore, as highlighted by former Tory Chair Sayeeda Warsi upon the appointment, Singh "believes that racism itself is a contested term". Further evidence of Singh's views on Muslims was revealed when discussing the Indian state's actions in Kashmir. He repeatedly made claims reversing the situation, casting Muslims in Kashmir as the cleanser of Hindu and Sikh populations, and denying the racism of the Modi government. And despite months of calls from the Muslim Council of Britain, Conservative political figures such as Warsi, and more broadly across communities, for an inquiry into Islamophobia within the Tory party, it still is not really taking place . Indeed, the review's focus has been downgraded to an ill-defined review of how the Party handles discrimination complaints, immediately moving the discussion away from structural power relations that subjugate Muslims, towards a whole host of bigoted interactions. This concern was pointed out by MCB general secretary: "By broadening the remit and looking at discrimination more generally, it is likely that the review is pre-programmed to ignore the mounting evidence of Islamophobia across the Conservative Party". Given all the factors involved, this supposed review could possibly even worsen the oppression faced by Muslims and people of colour at the hands of the Conservative Party. Read more: From Lebanon to Chile, the patriarchal state must fall Instead of offering a possible analysis of structural short-comings, it will likely lead to tokenistic, surface-level, recommendations for now ubiquitous Equality and Diversity style 'code of conducts' and 'best practices' by Party members and officials. It will also buy considerable time for the Tory Party. Johnson and his ilk will be given "proof" that action was taken to tackle discrimination in the Party, while they continue to wage war on Muslim communities under the cover of a so-called War on Terror.
This is all likely to further undermine the legitimacy of Islamophobia as a form of structural racism experienced by Muslims and those perceived as belonging to the faith group. Johnson demonstrated this during the general election when his apology for deeply racist comments was limited to the "hurt and offence" that they caused, as opposed to the fact that it was a contributing factor in rising violence against Muslims, and is part of a very long list of Islamophobic policies, statements and political projects led by the Tories. From Prevent and Schedule 7 to the "hostile environment" and war on migrants, Muslims have been at the centre of structural violence carried out by the state. Added to this, socio-economic inequality impacts particular groups especially hard. The Bangladeshi community for example - overwhelmingly Muslim - repeatedly emerges as the worst off in a whole number of indicators of structural inequality, ranging from rates of imprisonment to child mortality.
Furthermore, Johnson's resume of racism and his party's refusal to deal with it also clearly furnished far-right figures like Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins or street-fighting groups such as Britain First with greater confidence. In fact, the evidence of the PM's commitment to demonising Muslims galvanised them so much that they rallied behind his election and the Conservatives during the election. Since then, they have claimed that they were joining the Party to strengthen Johnson's leadership.
They are driven by the same racist ideology which aims to divide us and criminalise entire communities
The review, then, is likely to reduce the oppression experienced by Muslims - and people of colour more generally - to "feelings", instead of an admission that the Tory Party has an institutional racism problem, or that it has actively institutionalised racism further in its state institutions. In the years ahead, this is likely to encourage putting the civil liberties and rights of Muslims up for debate as legitimate talking points, as long as lip service is paid to tackling discrimination.
We can, and should expect a future filled with comments such as those made by Melanie Phillips recently in the Jewish Chronicle, that "the taunt of Islamophobia is used to silence any criticism of the Islamic world" to become the norm.
The Tories and much of the media spent Corbyn's leadership accusing the Left of anti-Semitism, all the while Johnson's continued friendships with anti-semites like Steve Bannon, or his diplomatic ties with the Hungarian anti-semitic government of Victor Orban, went uncriticised. Theresa May even unveiled an actual statue to a famous Nazi-supporter and anti-semite, without the faintest whisper of criticism. Equally, the silence over rising, rampant Islamophobia, was deafening.
Either we fight back, united, or we continue to beg for crumbs
Again, all this highlights that despite the claims made by so much of the anti-Corbyn and anti-Palestinian Right, anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish racism are not separate processes. They are driven by the same racist ideology which aims to divide us and criminalise entire communities, while pushing for a programme of growing inequality. When Phillips described the concept of Islamophobia as being "profoundly anti-Jew", she further participated in the pitting of communities against one another.
And although the racism peddled by the likes of Phillips may be expected, it certainly shouldn't be accepted.
As Boris' leadership gets underway, our efforts must target both his government and its racism. We must also seek to build, empower and resource movements fighting oppression across our society, and encourage alliances between all those under attack. Black, migrant, Muslim, Jewish, Asian communities, as well as women and LGBT rights are under attack. Either we fight back, united, or we continue to beg for crumbs, while thousands continue to be deported and locked up. The choice is ours to make. Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network. Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.
2019-12-23 | Comment | English | Al-Araby