Shrinking spaces: Muslim organisations targeted by cancel culture

Muslim organisations have been the canary in the coal mine for a vicious brand of cancel politics being waged by the neo-liberal establishment, argues Faisal Bodi.

Britain’s ranking in the third tier of a global index of freedom of expression by Index on Censorship won’t have come as a surprise to many Muslim organisations operating in the country.

For the last few years, they have been quietly bemoaning the fact that their access to mainstream political discourse has been narrowed or shut down by its gatekeepers.

Whether it’s because they have been briefed against in government and media circles, cowed into self-censorship by repressive legislation or policy, or blackballed for challenging dominant narratives or the official line, Muslim organisations have experienced a noticeable reduction in their ability to be seen and heard.

The harassment of charities supporting Palestine by the regulator and the vilification by mainstream media of human rights organisations campaigning for Muslims have been a feature of the domestic political scene for quite a while. However, they have now been augmented by the cancelling and exclusion of groups altogether in a bid to marginalise them and render their work ineffectual.

Whereas in the past, Muslim organisations fiercely critical of the government could expect to be included in official consultations, invited onto news and current affairs programmes and be regularly quoted in the national and local press, today they are more likely to be completely ignored.

Muslim civil society organisations’ funding is increasingly a problem as it becomes more and more conditional on conforming to political expectations. Their acceptability, and in some cases even survival, is subject to the exigencies of social engineering programmes masquerading as anti-extremism policies.

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Much of the blame for this can be laid at the door of anti-Muslim quangos such as the Charity Commission and non-governmental agencies such as the Henry Jackson Society and Tony Blair Foundation which have made it their mission to stymie Muslim participation in the public arena unless Muslim organisations can demonstrate that they are pro-Zionist and pro-government.

It is only now as the tentacles of repression are extended to “white” segments of civil society that bodies such as the EU and Index on Censorship are starting to take notice.

Although post-Brexit Britain wasn’t included in the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights’ 2020 report, its conclusion that the spaces in which civic organisations can safely operate have shrunk rings true of the UK. The Conservative government’s attacks on the right to protest and to curtail striking rights are two current examples of this tendency.  And while it is revealing about the direction of travel for political freedom in Britain, Index on Censorship’s report is exclusionary in itself, failing to mention anything about how Muslims have been the guinea pigs in the official onslaught against basic freedoms.

William Shawcross Pic: Gov.UK

The recently published review of Prevent by William Shawcross (former director of the Henry Jackson Society) is yet another example of anti-Muslim cancel politics. It doubles down on problematising Islam seeking to draw legitimate expressions of faith and faith-based views into the definition of terrorism. In doing so it seeks to restrict and constrain political debate and dissent by maligning legitimate political critique using populist discourse.

The review’s call to reach further into so-called “non-violent Islamist extremism” is nothing short of a call to criminalise mainstream Islam, especially where it informs political opinion that is hostile to establishment interests.

Writing recently in The Long View, Afroze F. Zaidi views the process as one of depoliticising the population such that “… depoliticisation leads to silencing, silencing further contributes to depoliticisation by shrinking the space for discourse, dissent, and critical engagement, thus forming a vicious cycle.”

Muslim CSO’s have long warned that the policies and legislation employed to repress minority communities have an uncanny knack of creeping into wider society. History shows that once people accept encroachments on cherished, fundamental freedoms for a few it is often only a matter of time before they come round to bite the many.

This article was first published on the Islamic Human Rights commission website.

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