been swotting up on Jerusalem for my youngest’s A-Levels this month. I would
rather abstractly debate whether the dark satanic mills of William Blake’s
imagination are the factories of the industrial revolution, or ponder the
orthodoxy of the established church, or, in Jez Butterworth’s celebrated play
of the same name, the evils of Kennet & Avon Council and all it represents
for the nation.
I find myself having to visit the work of the Commission for Countering
Extremism (CCE) and Andrew Norfolk of The Times.
latter had already been thoroughly debunked as a charlatan by Paddy French and
Brian Cathcart’s report into his misreporting of the Muslim foster family
story. The day after his story broke in The Times a 45-minute forensic
examination of just how badly the story had been misrepresented was aired on
BBC Radio 4.
terms of the content of CCE’s publications, there was nothing new or of
substance regarding the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), for whom I
work, or indeed any of the other Muslim organisations like CAGE, Mend and
Hizbut Tahrir, mentioned in them.
IHRC’s case, there were a few utterly incorrect items, running along with the
screeching narrative that mainstream Muslim organisations don’t know their
place (that is to be seen and not heard). The Times pieces seemed to comprise
an odd mix of misrepresentation not only about IHRC’s work but also the
function of HMRC, Gift Aid and the role of the Charity Commission.
normal world, we would have expected the latter to have publicly chastised The
Times for undermining public confidence in the charity sector. But we are not
in normal times and this attack on British institutions is calculated.
relentless tirade from certain media and political classes against Muslim civil
society has not only expelled Muslims from the political space, it has shrunk
that space to its minimum for almost everyone.
European Union's Fundamental Rights Agency highlighted this nearly two years
ago as a Europe-wide trend that delegitimises critique and prevents civil
society organisations (CSOs) from fulfilling their function as critical voices
and places of expertise.
find their funding curtailed or made subject to conditions that silence them on
key issues. Other barriers include the introduction of discriminatory
legislation and the targeting and vilification of CSOs - especially human
rights defenders - by politicians and the media.
the UK, being anti-war was once an eccentricity. Now criticising the military
is almost akin to treason. This week, one of the most principled postulations
of the Labour opposition was eroded by John McDonnell’s interview in GQ
magazine in which he recanted his earlier support for Tony Blair to face trial
for war crimes at The Hague.
demand was one of the few that dealt with the vicious spiralling of
dehumanisation of Muslims – killed in their millions – as part of the endless
war on terror. Meanwhile, the language of war and the imagery of military
glories past echo in the parliamentary chamber.
language that vilified Muslims has now cross-fertilised and mutually reinforced
attacks on civil society per se and dissenting views on Brexit, the NHS and so
much more. Islamophobia has always needed to be understood as part of the
deeper crisis of the political and social culture we live in.
surrender!" shrieks our current prime minister, whilst all around him aver
to Dunkirk and the Churchill spirit as Brexit nears, and Leave.EU proclaims we
didn’t fight a war to be told what to do by a "Kraut".
irony then that I was berated by the former prime minister Tony Blair’s
institute earlier this year for expressing in these pages a desire to
delegitimise the government when I called for the removal of the chief schools
inspector: "[Amanda] Spielman's speech is a statement of intent, a declaration
of war, and a pre-emptive justification of the onslaught to come," I
referred, of course, to the Oftsed chief inspector’s attack on schoolgirls
wearing Hijab, and the demonisation of them and their parents back in early
2018. In forecasting the further decline of media and policy narrative around
Muslims and Islamic belief, that article was prescient.
year has seen a spate of "reports" all clamouring to identify what
government lawyers had hitherto claimed was legally indefinable:
attempts hark to some idea of Britishness but fail to give any version of it
that isn’t simply a negative statement of identity - whatever it is that
Britishness is supposed to be, it isn’t Muslim, Islam or any form of Muslimness.
that Muslimness now encompasses all things. Concerns regarding civil liberties,
opposition to restrictive immigration practices, calling out racism and
Islamophobia, opposing military endeavours, calling for accountability for war
crimes, decrying sexism, demanding parental rights - these now are all
restricted for everyone.
as Muslims have associated the attacks on them via tropes associated with the
above, with hate attacks both verbal and physical, so now we find some MPs and
anti-Brexit activists in this brave new Jerusalem being provided 24 hour
protection by the police.
institutional sensitivity to the danger of the heightened, visceral rhetoric of
polarisation we live in in this Brexit moment is still only afforded to the few
privileged by class, money and political position. Ask any European living here
since Brexit, or Muslim since 9-11, and more so since Boris Johnson's Niqab
remarks, and they will explain how it works.
you can no longer say what everyone else says without vilification; you
definitely cannot have a view of your own distinct from the crowd and the
institutions you venerated, which you thought were there to support you against
the vagaries of the state: charity regulator, the police service, schools
inspectorate - all either fail in providing their support or, worse still,
become part of the mechanism of violence against you.
questioning is demonised as "delegitimising", then everything from
being a remainer to opposing the prorogation of parliament falls foul of not
just the term "extremism" but the relentless push to curb it.
no coincidence that the slew of reports - each feeding off the other to
legitimise their "arguments" -
on defining extremism call for the further crushing of civil society.
Each demands that inter alia the Charity Commission, the UN, the EU, the Home
Office etc change their procedures and guidelines for engaging with civil
society so that every new Islamist bogeymen is denied accreditation or platforms.
past, support for CAGE was relentlessly attacked by the media because its then
spokesman, Asim Qureshi, called "Jihadi John" a once "beautiful
young man" (he later regretted it and called the remark
"inappropriate"). Maybe it was not the best choice of words, but then
maybe the difference is that Qureshi does not sit behind the editor’s desk of a
major newspaper. I counted over 15 articles in The Times alone averring to this
week, The Times ran a story highlighting the plight of the family of Yousef
Makki's killer, Josh Molnar. Molnar is "middle class" from a
"leafy suburb" and has "mild learning difficulties". A further article’s headline implicitly
rebukes Makki’s family for refusing to forgive him.
The Times leader called on the British powers that be to shun IHRC because we
are hypocrites because we have not run a campaign about women and Hijab in
Iran. We have run campaigns about the punitive impact sanctions are having on
ordinary people in Iran, including the denial of life-saving medication,
something The Times has been all too quiet about. It’s all a little bit pot,
kettle, dark satanic mills?
at a crucial point in British history. As the decades-old myths of England
collapse under the weight of the Brexit comedy-drama, its institutions must
decide where they stand. Its highest courts have been surprisingly radical in
holding this government to account over the illegal prorogation of parliament.
too, felt the ire of the prime minister and his clique in much the same fashion
as critical civil society. It's up to the rest to decide where to draw the
Merali is a writer and researcher based in London. She is one of the
co-founders of Islamic Human Rights Commission and co-authored its recent study
"Environment of Hate: The New Normal for Muslims in the UK", with
Saied Reza Ameli.
Headline: On Islamophobia, Britishness
and the shrinking political space
The Middle East Eye