Response to Islamicate: Don’t focus on bashing Muslims

Journalist Nasim Ahmed responds to an article on the Islamicate website which argues that British Muslims must re-evaluate “their sense of belonging and commitment to the people they live amongst,” and “give thanks for the liberty to live as believers” here.

Ahmed argues that with a right-wing Tory government just returned to power, the article goes too far in casting a judgmental eye on Muslims.

With voters split almost 50/50 between right-leaning parties including the Tories and UKIP, and left-leaning parties including Labour, SNP, Lib Dems and Greens, the country has rarely been this divided.

Across the country there is justified anxiety over another five more years of Tory government unshackled from the moderating force of the Lib Dems.

Unsurprisingly, many have taken to expressing their feelings on why the Conservative party will be bad for Britain. So a disquisition on their damaging impact on Muslims was inevitable and it came in the form of an article published on the Islamicate website.

In these conversations one typically finds a raft of Tory policies listed in making the case for justifiable fear and apprehension over Cameron’s reign – for example: the attack on civil liberty and the invasion of privacy; capping of benefits; exclusion of under 21s from housing benefits; creeping privatisation of the NHS etc.

So it seemed rather curious to read a detailed assessment of the Tories impact on Muslims that deviated from this script.

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It was even more bizarre to find Muhammad Nizami’s article spending more time naval-gazing at the Muslim community and less time actually explaining why the Conservative party is or isn’t good for British Muslims.

Cameron has vowed to crack down on
Cameron has vowed to crack down on “extremists”

Deep anxiety over the Tories

In some ways it reminded me of a conversation I heard on radio discussing this very topic: why the Conservatives will be bad for Britain.

A caller who was on disability allowance spoke of his deep anxiety over Tory proposals to cut benefits with the host and a Conservative MP.

But instead of placating the valid concerns of the caller who was suffering from blindness, the Conservative MP callously rushed to remind the caller that this election was about values: values that divided the right and the left.

Gloating over his election victory, he smugly reminded the caller that the Conservatives had won a majority and therefore had absolute legitimacy to govern the country as they pleased and everyone had to just accept it.

It was one of the most shocking responses I had heard from an MP to a vulnerable and concerned member of public.

The issue of disability and mental health in Britain is a very strong one as many have been calling for reforms, both to health care systems and to Universal Credit. Some of these calls are for medicinal marijuana to be made legal. Some have even asked that those suffering with medical conditions like clinical anxiety or fibromyalgia to be able to use weed seeds to grow their own supply.

With the universal credit reforms are simply because the benefits system does too little and too late, with many having to wait up to a month to receive their first benefit payment. And yet Tories want to cut these benefits further.

Of course the example listed earlier isn’t illustrative of how every MP would respond; in fact I imagine that most MP’s (including Conservative) would sympathetically roll out scripted lines explaining how they’re trying to tackle abuse of the disability allowance and are not taking away benefit from those who really need it.

It was an instructive response nonetheless.

It exposed a number of weaknesses including: an inability to grasp the wider implication of the question; a disconnection from society and people with real concerns; and ultimately a basic failure to even provide an answer to the question posed at the outset.

Now, it would be wrong of me to make the same assumptions regarding the piece in question, however, the writer would have at least better served his aim, if not the Muslim community, by spending more time explaining how bad the Conservatives are for Muslims and less time casting a censorious gaze over British Muslims.

Addressing the article’s points

What then of the many substantive points made in the article including: Europe veering to the right; Muslims needing to jettison their dangerous obsession with foreign policy; Muslims suffering from an exaggerated sense of hostility fed by an obsession with foreign policy and security issues; undue concern with Islamophobia; and Muslims failure to adopt a more wholesome theology for the challenges in modern Britain?

Though I found a number of Nizami’s arguments to be persuasive, I nevertheless found his stance on Islamophobia un-serious and uninformed.

Treating it in a throwaway manner demonstrated either a lack of awareness of the rise in anti-Muslim hate across the globe, or simply just an unwillingness to deal with it because, in his eyes, there are far more pressing concerns like the future of the NHS and education.

Ironically, in his rather persuasive argument in defanging the “nasty party”, readers are reminded of the Conservative party’s commitment that “Islamophobia will be made a reportable offence that is monitored by the police”.

What is that if not an acknowledgement of its seriousness?

How were mainstream parties including the Conservatives persuaded of the serious rise in anti-Muslim hate if not for single issue Muslim groups that are disparagingly caricatured in the article as those “who infer that most of our political woes will be resolved by focusing on Islamophobia”.

He draws attention to the fact that Muslims are feeling a “sense of dejection in the religious community”.

What explains this phenomenon if not a sense of alienation as a result of the growing rise in discrimination against Muslims?


His attempt to undermine the seriousness of the rising tide of discrimination against Muslims is not born out of any reliable facts. In fact, figures from the Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey and others show a level of concern that requires a greater focus and sustained campaigning.

New research concludes that religion causes more prejudice than race, thus Muslims face “double discrimination” and “compounded discrimination” because they are mainly non-white and suffer from the rise of Islamophobia.

islamophobia_ridz_003Muslims men are 76 per cent less likely to have a job compared to their white British non-Muslim counterparts. They are the most disadvantaged in terms of employment prospects out of 14 ethno-religious groupings.

The Centre for Social Investigation at Oxford University’s Nuffield College, which carried out this research, also concludes that those of Pakistani and Bangladeshi background (the majority of Muslims in the UK) have around three times the risk of being in poverty than their white neighbours.

It is an image of a disempowered community trapped in a vicious cycle; a community that, as a result of entrenched prejudice and Islamophobia, has disengaged from politics, which has in turn fuelled more prejudice and Islamophobia.

This generational failure has produced an atmosphere of hostility that is now endemic within British politics.

Muslim advocacy groups

His characterisation of Muslim advocacy groups (such as CAGE) of being: “narrow focus” “as extremely shallow”; “and centred merely on matters of security”, to my mind displays little to no appreciation of the challenges facing Muslims in wider society, as well as basic ignorance if single issue pressure groups.

In the eyes of the author, is Greenpeace with an equally “narrow focus” culpable for not campaigning against austerity and privatisation of the NHS?

The NHS, education, social welfare are all battlegrounds Muslims share with the wider British community. Muslims need to do their part but our commitment to these national struggles, for which there are plenty of troops, does not mean we have to abandon campaigning over single issues that impact upon Muslims disproportionally.

cageIt’s not a question of either or, and more importantly if Muslim don’t fight this battle against Islamaphobia don’t expect anyone else to.

It is true that “there doesn’t seem to be a major threat to Islam”.

But what if your Islam means more than just ritual worship and, more profoundly, what if it’s informed by a deep sense that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere?”; what if your social and political activism is informed by your faith?; and your faith inspires you to challenge the narrow elite lead establishment in order to create a more fair and just society?

Reading the article I got the impression the author was appealing to Muslims to recognise our weakness as a minority community and tolerate a low ceiling in our political expression.

Although I believe there is an argument for common sense in this regard, Muslims are no less part of this country than a white Christian who is able to trace their ancestors thousands of years back in history.

As a citizen of the UK, the minority status of our religion does not impinge on our constitutional and human rights one iota. If we are to truly embrace this country as ours, we must recognise that we have just as much right as anybody else to live free from discrimination and prejudice no matter what our religion and politics.

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