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Anti-Muslim prejudice: some causes and counter-strategies

Summary

4 December 2014

Over the last decade, I have had lots of opportunity to reflect upon anti-Muslim prejudice, and how it should be tackled.

Causes of anti-Muslim prejudice

In my view there are three fundamental causes of anti-Muslim prejudice.

(1) Prejudice against otherness and difference is a universal human failing.

There are many types of difference. For example:

  1. Colour
  2. Culture
  3. Language
  4. Religion

Most other groups in Britain exhibit perhaps one or two differences. For example Black Caribbeans have a different colour, but their culture, language and religion are often the same or similar to white Britons.

In the case of Muslims in Britain, all four of these factors often apply at the same time. That makes this first universal failing stronger in its impact upon Muslims.

(2) For approximately 25 years, anti-Muslim prejudice has been fueled by the deplorable behaviour of some Muslims.

This began with the book burning and death threats against Salman Rushdie arising from his book “The Satanic Verses”. We subsequently saw terrorism overseas by Muslims such as the East Africa embassy bombings, 9/11 and then terrorism at home in the form of 7/7.

Against this background no Muslim should be surprised by a rise in anti-Muslim prejudice.

(3) We Muslims often create difference between Muslims and others when we don’t need to, by the language that we use.

To give just three examples.

  1. Allah instead of God
  2. Isa instead of Jesus
  3. Moussa instead of Moses

Each of the above choices creates the implication that Muslims are talking about someone different. Our own language creates the implication that Muslims worship a different god from Jews or Christians. Accordingly we should not be surprised when many Jews and Christians come to that (incorrect) conclusion.

The anti-Muslim sentiments that exist in certain parts of the population are then fed by some politicians such as Nick Griffin of the British National Party and by some segments of the media for their own political or commercial purposes.

The common denominator of anti-Muslim prejudice is that, at its most fundamental, it denies Muslims the same rights that others take for granted. This includes the right to practice their religion and to express their views on political domestic and foreign policy issues.

Muslims and the media

Countering anti-Muslim prejudice requires good media skills.

While some Muslims are of course media astute, my perception of Muslim organisations and Muslim leaders generally is that their media skills are woefully lacking. This arises from many of these leaders having grown up overseas and therefore not fully understanding British society at its most intuitive level.

For example, after the 7/7 bombings in 2005 many Muslim leaders, including I recall the Muslim Council of Britain, combined condemnation of the terrorism with attempts to explain what had caused it. There were two fundamental failings in what I recall hearing and seeing at that time.

An example of how to condemn

On 18 November after worshippers in a Jerusalem synagogue were murdered, I issued the following tweet which is short and unambiguous:

The synagogue murders in Jerusalem today are simply wrong. No provocations justify losing your moral compass or disregarding God's rules.

— Mohammed Amin (@Mohammed_Amin) November 18, 2014

(1) Condemnation in the abstract

Firstly, there was condemnation of terrorism in the abstract but almost no condemnation of the terrorists as real people. In an interview, I once described the 7/7 bombers as “bastards.” While such language may make some Muslim leaders uncomfortable, there are many other words that could be used on prime-time television which would adequately condemn the bombers as individuals who had betrayed their society and their religion. I did not hear such condemnations in 2005.

(2) Unwanted analysis

Secondly, when 54 people had just been murdered, nobody in British society was in a mood to hear analysis. What they wanted to hear was condemnation, loud and clear. The time for analysis was another day. The failure of most Muslim leaders to understand that illustrates just how woeful was their understanding of the media and of British society more generally.

How anti-Muslim prejudice can be combated most effectively

In my view the most effective way to combat anti-Muslim prejudice is to avoid getting into a situation where Muslims are seen as separate from the rest of society pleading a special “Muslim case.”  

Instead, anti-Muslim prejudice needs combating, not just because it is bad for Muslims, but because it is bad for the health of our society as a whole. Prejudice directed against one part of the population soon becomes prejudice directed against other parts of the population.

This requires Muslims to be well-connected with all other parts of society that are their natural allies. For example it is ludicrous for Muslim groups allow themselves to have bad relations with Jewish groups as a result of different views about the Middle East when Jews have more experience of suffering and countering persecution than any other group in British or European society.

Moreover effectively combating anti-Muslim prejudice requires for Muslims to be more engaged in the political system. It is essential for Muslims to join and be active in all political parties, apart from those far right parties which are explicitly xenophobic.

The key messages should be:

While Muslims understandably regard their own religion as the best, when engaging in the political space, we need to put that to one side. Instead we need to concentrate on common messaging and common campaigning with all other groups who believe in equal citizenship.

Furthermore Muslims need to remain vociferous in condemning bad behaviour by other Muslims, whether that bad behaviour occurs in Britain or overseas.

 

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