After her shambolic speech at the Conservative Party Conference this week, Prime Minister Theresa May should be apologising to Muslims, not the Tories, writes Ibtihal Bsis.
To describe Theresa May’s speech as a shambles would be the understatement of the year – and what a year it has been for the Conservatives. Crash landing her premiership, May returned to Number 10 following an out of touch campaign, a disastrous electoral result, and headlines coining her name to the SOS call of “Mayday”, she continues to lead anything but a “strong and stable” party. The P45 moment was as apt as apt could be.
There was a moment in which May turned sombre and apologised to her party for the dispatch box result, but her apology should have been directed, fairly and squarely, at Muslims.
Oborne was an invited guest to the Conservative Party Conference, but cites examples of troubling incidents that involved Muslim guests that were treated in an “abusive and contemptuous” way. This, he says, shows a “pattern….of behaviour towards Muslim organisations at Conservative Party Conference.”
That behaviour extends beyond the conference walls. Ironically, the conference last year took place in Birmingham, but the irony extends beyond the Muslim populous. It is also where Ms May unleashed the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill (CTS) as it was then, that unveiled the new statutory Prevent duty and the government’s intention to target those that “suffer” from “non-violent extremism”.
Before I continue, there is something that continues to trouble the government, and that is their inability to agree on a legal definition of “extremism”. Despite this, the Prevent strategy continues to plague the life of ordinary Muslims day in and day out. Apart from the cases that have hit the headlines, there are so many victims, to an extent that respected members of the Muslim community have deemed it necessary to set up organisations to support these victims, such as Prevent Watch.
Advocacy group CAGE continues to be inundated with cases (105 cases between 2016-17); adding to that the lawyers, including myself, that deal with Prevent on a daily basis, and witnessed firsthand the devastation that it has caused, not least to the children that feel bullied by those that are supposed to protect them.
From experience and working alongside organisations, I can confidently say that Muslims now have a genuine fear of just being “Muslim”. The full spectrum of their lives has been questioned, referred, probed, judged and labelled as “extreme”:
- Their dress (hijab and long robes and short trousers for men);
- Their food (halal) and how they eat that food (hands or knives and fork);
- Whether they pray, where they pray, and how they pray (referring to standing close and where they put their hands);
- Their schools (Islamic or not);
- Their furniture (whether they have a TV and Quranic verses dotted around the house);
- What they listen to (nasheeds and lectures);
- Even where they look (looking down as the opposite gender passes by, and lo and behold, opening doors, and stopping to let them through out of respect);
- Whether their children fast;
- Whether they’ve spoken to lawyers before answering questions, apparently that’s a sign of extremism;
- And the mother of all signs of extremism, whether they consider themselves as “practising Muslims”.
These are cases that I have had to deal with on behalf of my clients. It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious, dangerous and oppressive.
Muslims cannot even get away from it all, the recent case of CAGE’s International Director, Muhammad Rabbani, revealed much about “random stops” under Schedule 7, and the shocking figure of 88.4% of those detained at ports and airports are from ethnic minorities, or otherwise “not stated” doesn’t help reassure Muslims that they’re not being targeted.
Time and again, the government has been criticised for their draconian counter-terrorism laws and strategies. Voices of opposition include: the National Union of Teachers, the former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Sir Peter Fahy, leader of the opposition party Jeremy Corbyn, and the United Nations. The aforementioned list is by no means exhaustive.
Of course, none of these people are accused of distorting the truth or worse, “radicalising” people by turning them against Britain. You have to qualify to be accused of such nonsense – you have to be Muslim.
Nevertheless, Home Secretary Amber Rudd rolled out a new “extremism commission” that will train schools how to detect “radicalisation”. If the above list is anything to go by, all this commission will do is create more casualties. Apparently, applications for a commissioner are now open!
But there are some Muslims that the Conservatives will happily continue to court. Not least those in the Gulf, most prominently, Saudi Arabia, armed by the UK so it can continue to wage its murderous war in Yemen.
Returning within the walls of the conference, the Conservatives are also more than happy to invite those that parrot the threat of so-called “non-violent extremism”, in order to keep the cash flowing. But it’s the organ grinders we need to address. The people they parade to fulfil their agendas are fringe, not grassroots activists trying to rescue a targeted minority.
The government are in no unreserved terms, guilty of division and espousing hate. Oborne asserts that, “the Conservatives may be on the way to becoming a sectarian- and even racist-political party,” many genuinely believe that when it comes to Muslims, they are already there.
So what is it about these politicians who have a problem with Islam and Muslims? Perhaps it’s linked to their colonialist mentality, as exposed by Boris Johnson’s crass remarks about “clearing the dead bodies” in Libya to make it like Dubai.
I recently returned from to Libya after 40 years. We left because of the tyranny of Colonel Muammar Ghadaffi.
When I spoke to people on the ground, they lay the blame squarely at the feet of Western interference. The message from those we interacted with, were very clear – it all went wrong when NATO intervened, and when David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy followed suit.
Any policy or law will inevitably fail if it is based on injustice, and ultimately fails to delve into a “deeper debate” as Oborne states. That deeper debate must include foreign policy.
Muslims deserve an apology, here, in Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, and beyond. I am certain that there will come a time when that apology will come to pass, but until then, we can expect accusations and condemnations.
We find solace in the words of a man who to many non-Muslims, was the most influential human being in the world, and to Muslims, he is our beloved Prophet, Muhammad (peace be upon him); Jabir ibn Abdullah reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
“Guard yourself from oppression, for oppression will be darkness on the Day of Resurrection. Guard yourself from greed, for greed destroyed those before you. It caused them to shed blood and to make lawful what was unlawful.” [Sahih Muslim 2578]
Ibtihal Bsis is a barrister by profession. She is currently preparing a research paper on Prevent and its effects on the Muslim Community. You can follow her on Twitter @UmmHarith