ISLAMOPHOBIA, INTRANSIGENCE AND IGNORANCE
Dr Anthony McRoy
The recent Commission on Islamophobia and British Muslims set up by the Labour Government in 1999 / 2000 is currently being wound up having completed its 2-year lifetime. The Commission was set up to look at issues affecting British Muslims and to try to remove some of the stereotypes that had been and continue to be generated around the Muslim community. At a time when Islamophobia is at its peak, the Commissionís work has come to an end with no particularly effective exit strategy apart from directing enquiries to Muslim organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). The Commissionís failure to have an adequate exit strategy coupled with a lack of political clout does raise questions as to how effective it has been. Indeed, its very role was undermined by the banal and stereotypical comments by Blunkett and Hain against the Asian and Muslim communities. Front-bench Labour cabinet members have made clear their ill-informed and racist views, wrapped up under the guise of generating debate on inclusion post-September 11th. Letís be clear about this. There was nothing within both their statements that was inclusive, apart from labelling and marginalizing the Islamic community, who it now seems have become the new bogeymen and women of Europe.
The actions of the Labour Government on the issue of Islamophobia and British Muslims clearly show their fundamental lack of direction in working with the Islamic community in the UK. By undermining itís own Committee, it has sent out mixed signals to the Islamic community which has historically voted for the Labour Party. It is therefore up to the Islamic community in the United Kingdom to get involved in the political arena and lobby parliamentarians and local councillors on subjects that matter to them such as Islamophobia. The Sikh and Jewish community have some recourse against religious discrimination through the Race Relations Act (1976) and no doubt the Race Relations Amendments Act (2000) will have a further impact on mainstreaming racial equality within organisations such as local authorities. The lack of religious protection for the Muslim community has been a carefully constructed scenario that has seen the loophole manipulated by the BNP and by some sections of the Labour Party.
What makes the issue of religious protection even more relevant is that organisations such as the BNP have moved their focus away from rhetorical racist comments against Blacks, Asians and Jews, to the Muslim community in the UK. In essence, the BNP incites British citizens to attack other British citizens on the basis of their religious belief. Gone are the days of racial stereotyping by the BNP; it has been swiftly replaced by religious bigotry that has seen the BNP sweep through Oldham and Bradford. The riots last year were testament to the fervent attempts by the BNP to incite racial hatred through their political activity in the North of England.
A recent cabinet report (March 2001) from the Performance and Innovation Unit of the Government reported that Muslim men of Pakistani and Bengali background are disproportionately unemployed relative to other Asians. The report goes onto say that ďeven after allowances for education and residential area, Pakistani Muslims are three times more likely to be jobless than Hindus are. Indian Muslims are twice as likely to be unemployed than Indian Hindus are.Ē Numerous other reports from charitable trusts and research agencies clearly indicate that the Muslim community is one of the most marginalized and isolated communities in the UK. It is up to the community to start effectively lobbying MPís, conduct Ďwrite-upí campaigns to the local and national press agencies as well as put forward potential political candidates in order for its voice to be heard.
Finally Islam makes it clear that Muslims living in countries across the globe must abide and adhere to the laws of the land in which they reside. They must also play a constructive role within the country and this inevitably means working with all groups. Muslims must engage with the political processes of this country in order to push back the tide of xenophobia that has swept areas of the country. Political parties though, have a choice; they can maintain what seems to be the national status quo of Islamophobia, intransigence or ignorance or they can start the process of devising an informed, intellectual and inclusive strategy towards religious communities.