The War on Terror has changed the lives and narrative of Muslims living in the West irrevocably, writes Nishaat Ismail.
13 years ago at the tender age of eleven, I was oblivious to the way in which the War on Terror would shape my entire existence as a British Muslim. The increased surveillance of Muslim communities, the outlawing of Islamic attire and the likening of the Islamic faith to a peril, are all creations of this war that started out as a battle to eliminate and destabilise a terrorist organisation but has morphed into a covert reconnaissance of Muslims living in the West.
Islamophobia in the UK
Islamophobia in the UK and other European countries has risen radically since 2001, but the need and urgency to criminalise abuse and acts of violence committed towards an individual due to their submission to Islam has been undermined in the UK. The state’s lack of commitment to this grave issue that puts the lives and wellbeing of an entire faith group at risk has contributed to anti-Islamic rhetoric becoming engrained in the social fabric of British society.
Dr Chris Allen who is a lecturer in Social Policy, played an independent advisory role on the Government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group since November 2011 but left the group last month, stating “Three years on and having personally submitted around half a dozen briefing papers to the group and associated politicians, I have now resigned my position, disillusioned by both group and government’s shared inability to even begin to move forward the issue of tackling Islamophobia.”
This is an alarming revelation yet unsurprising. The government has failed to vociferously affirm their intolerance of prejudice against Muslims both in the media and on the streets. A new report by Teesside University’s Centre for Fascist, Anti-Fascist and Post-Fascist Studies has revealed Muslims are being attacked on a daily basis and children as young as 10 have been the perpetrators of abuse.
Last week, former Apprentice contestant and Sun columnist, Katie Hopkins, posted a number of Islamophobic tweets on her Twitter account, which has outraged British Muslims, with many demanding for Hopkins to be arrested.
One of the tweets referring to a Channel 4 show, 24 Hours in Police Custody read, “Father beats his daughter with an iron bar. But he is a good Muslim, prays in his cell & attends the mosque. So that’s all happy days then.” In another tweet she said “Palestinians busy knifing Israelis. 2 state solution my arse. Filthy rodents burrowing beneath Israel. Time to restart the bombing campaign.”
This is not the first time Hopkins has conveyed her racist views. In August, Muslim organisation MEND asked people to write to The Sun newspaper to urge it to sack Hopkins after she tweeted racist and Islamophobic statements.
After many occasions of displaying bigotry and anti-Muslim sentiment it is concerning that Hopkins is still given airtime on mainstream media channels. This only highlights how accepted Islamophobia has become within our society.
Islamophobia in the media
The media’s prejudiced portrayal of Muslims has been one of the chief consequences of the War on Terror and further fuelled Islamophobia. A BBC One sitcom featuring Adil Ray as Mr Khan, depicts a “traditional” Muslim Pakistani family living in Sparkhill, Birmingham. Now, many may regard the show’s slapstick humor as lighthearted and innocuous but I feel it reveals a far more warped reality.
Our media only allows Muslims to be consigned to certain categories; that of a terrorist or an overbearing bad humored and outlandish Asian man. There is never a moderate and balanced portrayal and there seems to be a constant pressure to conform to mass media’s depiction of what it means to be a Muslim.
The ghastly actions of the so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS) militants and the activities of the US-led coalition in Iraq and Syria against ISIS have bought back the menacing characteristics of Islamophobia we witnessed immediately after 9/11.
Both ISIS extremism and the government’s emphasis on the “global jihadist agenda” are powering Islamophobia and a far right backlash in the UK.
Despite Muslims from all walks of life, condemning groups like ISIS, we still find ourselves shipwrecked between Western notions of “moderate” and “extremist”. Call it hyperbolic but even if the 1.6 billion Muslims inhabiting this Earth marched in denunciation of ISIS and all other acts of terrorism committed in the name of Islam, it would still fall on deaf ears.
Muslims being targetted
Ironically it is Muslims that are being targeted more so than any other group due to crimes committed by extremist groups. The international community’s answers to terrorists has only aided and increased turbulence faced by Muslims both at home and abroad.
A report by scholars with the Eisenhower Research Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies published in 2013, found the total number of lives lost from the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan are 225,000. The prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, where the vast majority are innocent have bore the punitive and cruel consequences of the relentless war on terror. Barak Obama has forgotten the promises he made about closing Guantanamo before he took office and as result the plight of a 148 detainees continues, where they undergo brutal physical and psychological torture.
As well as death and devastation in invaded countries, the war on terror has given birth to regular media campaigns, extricating Muslims as the pariah and feared other. Last month, The Sun (where Hopkins has a weekly column) had a seven-page feature on the ISIS, urging “Britons of all faiths to unite to defeat IS fanatics” with the front page displaying an image of a “Muslim woman” in a Union Jack hijab. The image was clearly targeting Muslims and not “Britons of all faiths” as the title suggests and was a ludicrous attempt to amass support for yet another calamitous military operation in the Middle East.
The media’s continuous pressure on Muslims to publically display outrage and disgust at ISIS has been uncalled-for. The recent “poppy hijab” debacle has made a mockery of the hijab and reduced it to a symbol of nationalism when it is supposed to be an emblem of devotedness to God and not the country.
Sughra Ahmed, president of the Islamic Society of Britain (ISB) who backed the “poppy hijab” campaign said, wearing this hijab is a way for “ordinary Muslim citizens to take some attention away from extremists” The campaign is yet another patronising escapade to test just how “British” Muslims are, legitimises the idea of guilt by association of faith and serves to further alienate followers of the Islamic faith.
War of terror
The war on terror is a war of terror and the state actors orchestrating the war have committed far more crimes than those they accuse of being terrorists. Not only that, but the war on terror is responsible for demonising an entire faith and its 1.6 billion adherents, consequently increasing hostility and violence against Muslims worldwide, making Islamophobia an accepted norm.
Furthermore it has resulted in the UK government enforcing draconian anti-terror laws, which will only thrust people into the arms of radicalisation as a result of feeling disenfranchised and marginalised. What’s disturbing is that the definition of what constitutes as “terrorism” has over the years altered and anyone who seems to sympathise with the victims of the wars in Syria and Gaza or criticises Britain’s foreign policy in the Middle East runs the risk of being branded a “jihadist” or “extremist” and may be subject to arbitrary arrest.
The war on terror’s greatest achievement has been the strong establishment of Islamophobia in the world and with the ongoing western military crusade in the Middle East, the media’s unfavorable portrayal of Islam and Muslims to create nationwide hysteria and the exorbitant measures used by the government to capture alleged extremists, means the war on terror will not be terminated any time soon and Islamophobia is here to stay.
Nishaat Ismail has just completed a post-graduate degree from Birkbeck University in Middle East in Global Politics: Islam, Conflict and Development (MSc). She has a BA in history from SOAS and specialises in the history and politics of the near and Middle East. She is also a blogger and contributing editor for The Moroccan Times.
You can follow Nishaat on Twitter @NishIsmail