20 February 2014
As someone who closely follows news and current affairs, especially relating to British Muslims, I have over the years become increasingly conscious that there are some individuals and groups who perpetually claim how awful everything is and that is getting worse.
Optimists and pessimists are normally differentiated by asking whether they see " the glass as half full or as half empty." However there are some people and organisations who perpetually see the glass as being "completely empty." Australians sometimes pejoratively refer to Britons as "Whinging Poms". However whinging poms are nothing compared to whinging Muslim Poms!
I was tempted to illustrate this article with some examples, but decided it would upset too many people. As they say in the Armed Forces "No names, no pack drill."
To formulate a strategy, you need to accurately assess the current situation, evaluate what resources you have available and then devise a plan.
If you draw incorrect conclusions regarding the current situation, you risk focusing on the wrong problems.
For example I often encounter young Muslims from an ethnic minority background who consider that racism in Britain is both high and increasing.
Whether racism is high or low is fundamentally a matter of opinion since there are no objective criteria for defining what is "high" or what is "low". However there is a great deal of objective data which demonstrates that levels of racism in Britain today are much lower than they were in the past, and that it has been dropping steadily over the decades. One readily available example is a paper by Robert Ford "Is racial prejudice declining in Britain?"
Robert Ford's conclusions are consistent with my own observations as someone who has lived in Britain since 1952.
Religious hostility is a more complex issue. The attitude of non-Muslim Britons towards Islam has varied over the years depending upon the types of "Muslim stories" in the news. Sadly but not surprisingly non-Muslim attitudes have been adversely affected by the conduct of Muslims in Britain and elsewhere. Particular examples are the reaction to the publication of "The Satanic Verses" by Salman Rushdie, the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the London bombings of 7/7 and the response to the Danish cartoons of 2005.
The Jewish organisation the Community Security Trust has been tracking antisemitic incidents for many years. They have found that when there are "trigger events", usually overseas such as the Second Lebanon War of 2006 and Operation Cast Lead in 2008/2009 antisemitic incidents rise dramatically and then trend back downwards towards a much lower base level. The equivalent work by Tell MAMA tracking anti-Muslim incidents is much more recent but I would expect it to show the same pattern.
The resources available to counter anti-Muslim hostility are found both in the Muslim community and in wider society.
That is similar to the struggle against racism in the USA. That was led by Afro-American organisations but also received extensive support from the Federal government under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and from liberals in the white American community, particularly Jewish Americans.
With every year that goes by there are more British Muslim millionaires, media personalities, senior professionals and corporate executives.
This provides a growing resource base of finance and expertise available to counter anti-Muslim hostility. However the pronouncements of many Muslim advocacy organisations appear oblivious to this.
Several centuries ago the British government recognised the importance of freedom of religion. It still took time for some impediments to religious freedom to be removed (for example removal of discrimination against Roman Catholics) and the occasional item of theoretical discrimination remains such as requiring the monarch to be an Anglican. More significantly the Conservative government of the 1990s was suspected by many of discriminating against Muslims by always finding reasons to avoid funding state-maintained Muslim faith schools; something changed by the Labour government of Tony Blair.
Despite such occasional lapses, the government has been steadfastly opposed to religious discrimination and seeks to counter religious bigotry. However many Muslim advocacy organisations perpetually complain about the government pursuing "anti-Muslim policies."
Religions compete in a market place and the growth of Islam by conversion represents a direct threat to the market share of other religions in Britain. Notwithstanding such competitive issues, the Christian churches are united in condemning anti-Muslim bigotry. The same applies to other religious groups such as the various strands of Judaism; the extent of their activity against religious bigotry varies depending upon their general public affairs engagement. However, despite the often differing views of Muslims and Jews regarding the Middle East, all mainstream Jewish organisations oppose anti-Muslim bigotry.
When strategies are based upon an incorrect assessment of the situation, fail to take account of allies, and sometimes even regard allies (such as the Government) as opponents, they are unlikely to succeed. In my view this accounts for many Muslim advocacy organisations seeking to counter anti-Muslim bigotry being relatively ineffectual.
What is required is an approach which emphasises the commonalities between Muslim and non-Muslim Britons, and which emphasises the broadest possible coalition against religious bigotry. This requires working with the widest possible range of allies.
It also requires opposing all forms of religious bigotry so Muslim advocacy organisations should be as vociferous in condemning antisemitism, for example, as they are in condemning anti-Muslim hatred.