Anti-Muslim prejudice is rising across Europe. There are calls for bans on Muslim immigration, bans on the construction of mosques and a ban on women wearing the veil. France has already barred Muslim girls from wearing the hijab in school and Switzerland has banned the construction of minarets.
In Britain, the British National Party is gaining greater prominence. It calls Islam a “wicked and vicious faith” and its leader, Nick Griffin, is set to become an MP in the next general election.
What does all this mean for the millions of Muslims in Britain and Europe. Should we be scared for our future in Britain and Europe? Naheem Zaffar says YES. He argues that Europe is on the brink of repeating the mistakes of history by allowing far-right parties to gain power. Irfan Jalil says NO. He argues that the far-right can only gain power if we fail to engage politically.
Yes, They'll Kick Us Out!
When I was younger there was a fear within the immigrant community - one day we will be kicked out, told to go back home. This fear may still be the case for some people in many places.
I used to laugh at the thought that people worried about such things. In my mind pigs would fly before people would get any such notion.
The idea that people will get kicked out stemmed from decades ago, from when people came over to earn money working as cheap labour with a view of eventually returning "back home". They saved up money and sent it back, maybe even built mansions there to eventually return to. However the lifestyle they lived in the UK was generally more humble and affordable - if they were going to leave, or get kicked out eventually, there was no point building a future.
Over time however, such a view lost its strength, it became a diluted shadow of its former self and many people even forgot about its existence - they had kids, brought them up in the UK, integrated. Besides, we are in a civilised and liberal democracy, not some oppressive state. Britain is home.
The Bosnian war however did make some people sit up and think again - the Muslims there were native, so what chance did immigrant Muslims have? But again that was Eastern Europe. A world away from here. Surely nothing could go wrong here? A liberal society meant that we would be free to practice out faith, free to earn an honest living and free to live.
However, other actions in and around Europe may once again give such fears credibility. First there were the European elections where far right parties across the board got more favourable support.
Then there were almost constant attacks on women's rights where people want to liberate them by taking away their existing rights. The liberalism in France seems to have turned militant - forced liberalism where anything seeming out of the ordinary or less liberal is to be forced out or broken down.
Let’s not forget the phenomenon of the English Defence League non-violent protests that always turn violent, who say they are protesting against "extremist Muslims", but at the same time do not think Muslims can be moderate. So in their view all Muslims are extremist Muslims.
Once you have a target that you can vilify and dehumanise, anything can happen. Things may not seem too bad in the UK right now, but just look at how far Muslim/Non-Muslim relationships have gone in the past year - who would have thought Switzerland would ban minarets. Switzerland, a country so neutral it did not even stand up to Hitler! It will freely and willingly deal with drug dealers and despotic dictators, but when it came to Muslims it drew a line.
The prejudiced extremists in Switzerland first tried to campaign to ban halaal meat but backed down when they realised that the Jewish community also slaughters its meat. The echoes of prejudice and intolerance were too close to events that happened just a few decades earlier. Instead of dropping their open prejudice however, these extremists moved onto another issue to campaign on - minarets, which eventually saw them succeed.
There is a commitment from extremists to stir up trouble, to act on prejudice and spread malice. We cannot simply wish it away, just like we unfortunately cannot simply wish away extremism from within the Muslim community.
Those who do not learn from history are born to repeat it and there is an historic lesson to be learnt from Europe's history - from the Spanish inquisition to the European imperialism, through fascism and Nazism all the way to the Bosnian war. A few short years earlier who would have thought any of them would happen? Yet it is a process that has repeated itself time and again.
Can we still laugh at the idea that people will be kicked out of places like the UK for simply being Muslims?
No, They Won't Kick Us Out.
(...but we have to do our bit)
A few weeks ago the prospect of Nick Griffin becoming an MP had me feeling really down. I was re-evaluating my future in this country. I had hoped to raise a family in England, live my whole life here, grow old here and be buried here. But these modest and mundane aspirations would be seriously under threat if Nick Griffin were to sit as an elected member in the Houses of Parliament.
Yet, we've been here before. I live in Smethwick, which is a town just outside Birmingham. Peter Grifiths became MP for Smethwick in 1964. His campaign slogan had been “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour”. A few years later another Conservative MP, Enoch Powell, gave a speech in which he said that rivers will run with “much blood” if black and Asian immigration to the UK continued. In 1972 Ugandan dictator Idi Amin expelled Asians from his country. Leicester City Council responded by taking out adverts in the Ugandan press telling Asians not to come to Leicester.
If either of these three things happened now, would we be talking about packing our bags and going “back where we came from”? The truth is that this country has seen the likes of Nick Griffin before. Our parents and grandparents who came to Britain in the 60s and 70s had to put up with far worse than the BNP. But our elders persevered. They made sacrifices, worked hard and tried to build a better future for their children.
Because of their efforts no-one now remembers Peter Grifiths, Enoch Powell became an irrelevance and Leicester City Council has now apologised for what it did. In fact, Leicester is set to become the first non-white majority city in Britain. Smethwick has countless mosques, the largest Sikh gudhwara in the country and the largest Hindu temple in Europe is only down the road.
Current anti-Muslim feeling in the UK is not pervasive. There are people who don't like Muslims, but there are many more people who aren't prejudiced and don't have an axe to grind against minorities. Yes the BNP and the English Defence League are crazy racists but we have our crazies too. Anjem Choudry is the Muslim community's own extremist clown. But just as he isn't about to lord over us as Grand Mufti of Britain, so Nick Griffin isn't going to become Supreme Archdragon of Britannia.
Besides, anti-Muslim feeling is just the current bigotry fad. It used to be Jews, then Catholics, then the Irish, then blacks and Asians and now it's our turn again, but this time as Muslims. Each time these hate-fads have reduced in intensity. Jews were kicked out, Catholics were forced underground, the Irish were abused, blacks were feared, Asians were used and, let’s face it, most people have had enough of hearing about Muslims and just want to move on.
Most people in Britain want to get along with each other as human beings. Divisions based on race, religion and nationality are old school - just desperate people holding on to the last vestiges of past certainties. In bad economic times when people lose their jobs and don't have any money, they look to blame other people for their misery. People of a different race or religion become the scapegoat of choice.
So, the likelihood of Nick Griffin becoming an MP should not send us into yet another paranoid frenzy. It is an opportunity for us to take stock and renew our efforts to make a permanent commitment to this country. No more longing for the homeland. No more sending uncontrollable sons and daughters to Pakistan to get married. No more spending hours discussing the latest twists and turns in Pakistan's or Bangladesh's topsy turvy politics. It's time to get serious about our future in this country.
All this should tell us that Nick Griffin and his BNP are merely a bump in the road. Most people in Britain are not racists and would not vote BNP. The BNP have only won seats in places where less than half of eligible voters voted. In other words, if more people were bothered to go and vote, the BNP would not win elections.
The problem isn't that the general population is becoming racist. The problem is that we're all too damn lazy. Nick Griffin is currently an MEP representing the UK in the European Parliament. He was elected from the region that includes Manchester and Oldham. Just think how many Muslims live there. I can't even keep count of the relatives I have there. But if they had voted in the European elections then Griffin would not have this electoral legitimacy.
There are people who will say that Nick Griffin becoming an MP in Westminster could be a harbinger of a new fascistic British politics. If he gets elected there will be a ban on the veil, a ban on Muslim immigration, a ban on the building of mosques. But any such anti-Muslim policies will be accompanied by limits on other minorities too. If Muslims are forced to pack their bags, Jews and blacks will be next. In our fight against an oppressive far-right government we will not be alone.
But a nationalist dictatorship is way off. Griffin, and others like him, need to get into Parliament first. And that can only happen if we carry on doing nothing. We can carry on thinking politics is boring and that all politicians are the same and that nothing ever changes. Maybe it will take a ban on the veil for us to realise that politics isn't so boring. Maybe when Prime Minister Nick Griffin or President Adolf Cromwell walk through 10 Downing Street we will realise that politicians are not all the same. Maybe when we realise that we can't teach our children the Quran we will realise that elections do change things.
The BNP can only gain real power if we carry on doing nothing. The first thing we can do is go out and vote.
What do you think?
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