How should Muslims respond to the collective challenges post-Brexit?


Dr Omer El Hamdoon is the president of the Muslim Association of Britain.


Dr Omer El Hamdoon discusses how Muslims should respond to the societal challenges Britain faces after Brexit.

Nearly five months on from the EU referendum, we are still very much in the dark about what is really to be expected. Much like the Donald Trump presidential victory, the whole affair was not in the least forecast to go down the route it went.

Indeed, our very own ex-Prime Minister, David Cameron, risked his own political career on winning the “Remain” campaign. This uncertainty is – to a certain degree – reflected in the financial sector and how “strong” the pound is.

What we surely didn’t expect either was the amount of racist and xenophobic rhetoric that was born out of the result. Reports started to emerge of the spike in racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic incidents shortly after the results.

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One of the many incidents summarises the negative rhetoric:

A British Asian mother walking her son to school in Greater Manchester was physically assaulted by a man who asked her: “I voted for you to leave so what are you doing here?”

British Muslims and Brexit

For Muslims in the UK, the question of “What happens post-Brexit?” has been asked many times on different platforms, including in the “Muslims and Brexit: What Next?” conference held by the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) back in July this year.

These attempts have not given clear answers, but rather mixed predictions of potential outcomes from the biggest divorce in modern western history. The insights helped the audience to understand the possible impacts Brexit may have on British Muslims.

Islamophobic graffiti and the swastika spray paintedon the psychology building at Uni of Birmingham
Islamophobic graffiti and the swastika spray paintedon the psychology building at Uni of Birmingham

Last week, I was part of another panel which was discussing community responses to the challenges faced in light of Brexit. This was a panel brought together by Islington Faiths Forum who rightly put this topic up for discussion.

Across Europe, Euroscepticism is rising. Prior to the vote, the leave campaign was already mixed with anti-European sentiment, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, and anti-refugee movements. These movements have been rising, and too often accompanied by hostility to difference, and a hostility to others.

In the circles of discussions that I had prior to the vote, I found those supportive of Brexit are also most uncomfortable with diversity. Sure, they had issues with immigration, but the diversity that already exists in the UK was a bigger issue for them. I found that where there was little or no multiculturalism, there was a higher tendency to vote Leave.

Voting Leave was not the problem. This is the vote of the people and we should all respect it. However, as most would agree, that voting for Brexit has opened a large can of worms. In some ways, it is similar to what has happened in America over the past week. Trump’s presidential victory has been interpreted as an open season for racists and bigots to commit Islamophobic and racist crimes. Brexit did the same.

David Cameron stated “loud and clear” that: “Just because we are leaving the European Union, it will not make us a less tolerant, less diverse nation.”

However, the statistics tell a very much different story…

The focus of our responses should be centred on diversity and acceptance.

From the discussion that we had last week, the following points were put forward as possible community responses:

1) Education: more is needed in schools to educate children on diversity and acceptance of others.

2) Interfaith meetings, which transcend “faith” as many might not associate with faith, and to allow these meetings to be about intra-community matters.

3) Collaboration on matters and working together on common issues. The issues that bring us together are much more than those that divide us.

4) Addressing the issues on the ground by not allowing anyone to be left behind, whether it is in regards to housing, schools or other public services. As the leader of the Islington Council pointed out that he felt many of those who voted for Brexit were feeling disenfranchised.

5) Challenging bigotry and racism. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) displayed great leadership in putting together a community response against an appalling attack on “foreigners” led by the Daily Mail in relation to lorry drivers using mobiles whilst driving.

To conclude, the challenges post Brexit-vote are a prelude to what may be much worse post the actual Brexit two years down the line.

It is important for us to start working now to ensure that Britain continues to be the diverse, tolerant multicultural society that we are all proud of.

You can follow Dr Hamdoon on Twitter @Omer_Elhamdoon

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