Weekly column by Yasin Bangee

Those of you that have the pleasure of following me on twitter will have noticed how my rage levels have kicked up a notch since I started writing about Islamophobia, racism and the British media.

As part of my week at work I was *asked* to read newspapers for blogging material. This exposed me to hate pages from The Sun, Mirror, Telegraph and everyone’s favourite go to for facts and reasoned debate, The Daily Mail.

Aside from the usual misogyny, bigotry and racism, I came across a fantastic set of news, and lack of coverage. Before I kick off with Islamophobia this is not a discussion on the pros and cons of Islam. This is a look at race.

Smart arses will giggle, convinced “It’s not racist to criticise Islam” but when the victims of Islamophobia are, for use of Nick Robinson’s catchphrase, “Of Muslim appearance”, how can you claim race plays no part?

Hijabi women, brown men, black people, anyone of a Middle Eastern descent. They’re the one’s targeted post Woolwich in some patriotic reclamation of British Imperialism. Aside from schools and mosques bombed (yes, fire bombed!), the media decided to offer a snippet in some papers and almost no coverage in others (such as the Mail).

Newspapers have such wide readership, and the Sun in particular is the best selling print media in the UK. What they report on (and don’t report on) shapes the views of many people. By failing to give appropriate cover to the wide rise of Islamophobia the media is ignoring a real and present issue for many British Muslims, and for many minorities who face the gaze of fascism.

Indeed the Telegraph prepared a fascist apologist piece in the wake of Woolwich, and amidst reports from Tell Mama, a service which logs anti Muslim attacks, of hundreds of instances of abuse/attacks suffered by Muslims post Woolwich.

Here is the piece – Muslim hate monitor to lose backing

The language is telling. “16% of attacks could not be verified” – “only 8% involved physical confrontation” – “57% of attacks took place online”. As though any of that is okay.

Despite the fact that racist insignia has been left on Islamic buildings around the UK the Telegraph has decided to focus on the victims rather than the perps.

Islamophobia is fed directly through what the media reports and does not report. In the wake of terrorism Muslim leaders organise peace marches, invite community leaders to calm tensions and hell, men took to the streets of Bradford to sell poppies. Despite all this, the media turns towards Anjem Choudary as its token Muslim mouthpiece. It’s like painting Nick Griffin as the solitary white voice in the UK. This blatant inflammatory response is to get readers to pick up papers. “Look at what the weird brown person is spouting this time!”.

Choudary is to Islam what Tommy Robinson is to white Britons. To pretend otherwise is prejudicial, based on stereotypes and association.

When C4 decided to air prayer calls at 3am this week the media reaction was pathetic. Despite very few people being affected a huge storm kicked off, with shouts of pandering to multiculturism and demands of “Why no focus on other faiths on telly?” For further nonsense (and some witty takeover) see #boycottchannel4 on twitter.

As stupid as the reaction is I do wish C4 had exercised some discretion. What the media toys with in terms of Islam, Islamophobia and race is acted out in real life. A lot of the myths surrounding Islam is over its takeover of Britain. Britain has a 92% white population, over 40000 churches and under 1000 mosques. Half of all British mosques have faced attack since 9/11 and no one seems to think this is newsworthy.

C4 enjoy the controversy and the attention but ordinary Muslims face the attacks and the hate. We walk into newsagents and see

TheSun

The Sun prints a massive front page hate piece and claims “this could inflame tensions”. Irony.

What now?

I just don’t know how else to raise racism and the media. Of course the media is racist. They pander to a white majority readership and the white majority readership needs a minority group to blame for society’s woes.

Great Britain; the only industry on the up are food banks, and victims are carted in ready by the media to blame. The Tory government is desperate for a distraction and Woolwich offered an alternative, served on a silver platter.

You may claim that’s offensive to the memory of Lee Rigby but I point you to the EDL, BNP and crack downs on migrants in the wake of Woolwich as proof. 2013 Britain sees fascist marches, anti fascist arrests and a media hell bent on fanning the flames of hate, in chase of profit, in chase of something more insidious.

I don’t want retractions and corrections or apologies. Print media like the Sun has to stop. The focus is on page 3 but the racism and hate spread from Page 1-2 and 4 onwards needs stamping out. The Mail acts beyond parody and finds more and more creative ways to incite violence. The nuanced high brow broadsheets may offer high brow bigotry painted as critical analysis. An hour after Breivik ruined Oslo the Guardian had a piece up and ready blaming Islam for the attack. 3 hours later the piece was gone.

Islamophobia is racist.

I will leave you with this quote from a study looking at Muslim coverage by the media.

“Two-thirds [of stories] focused on terrorism or cultural differences, and much of it used words such as militancy, radicalism and fundamentalist.”

8 thoughts on “This Week in Islamophobia

  1. People dislike Islam because they dislike racism, misogyny, homophobia and fascism. Religion is nonsense and deserves to be ridiculed and demonized – just as it seeks to demonize anyone whom opposes it.

    There is no such thing as Islamophobia – you cannot discriminate against an idea.

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    1. I’ve read A C Grayling’s argument about religion and free speech, in which he concludes that, while it’s bigoted to take issue with things about a person they can’t choose, like their colour gender or sexuality (issues here, but we’ll definitely pass over them), it’s totally fine to ridicule (his word, not mine) their choices, like political views and of course, religion. I’m assuming you’re coming from that position here.

      Frankly, I think even Grayling ought to know that religion isn’t a choice in the way that deciding between the carrot cake and the tiffin is. Please someone call me out if I’m overstepping, because I’m an atheist, but organised religion is an extremely complicated social construct, sustained by deep personal aspects including faith, intellectual and emotional experience, study, discussion with respected elders and peers, educational and state institutions, and often, various degrees of social pressure (examples – parental encouragement, the expectations of relatives, advice of a teacher or faith-leader, prospective parent-in-law opinions, the idea of salvation in an afterlife exclusively for believers, more overt coercion like abuse of heretics). So mocking someone for being part of a religion is a bit like saying ‘haha your whole life and everyone you love is ridiculous and pathetic’, or in other words spectacularly ignorant of the cultural background and structures of privilege involved.

      Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s a serious problem of excessive ‘blasphemy policing’ around today and we hear a lot about this within Islam. I hope that changes, but it’s hardly surprising that some Muslims have tended to close ranks and preach hatred of Westerners after all they have endured and continue to endure at the hands of White/Christian/European/USA crusaders/colonisers/corporate interests.

      While people raised in Muslim might convert or lose their faith, it is not possible, Grayling would argue, to convert to another ‘race’ or lose their ethnic otherness, so in order not to be bigots (because this is all about YOUR *identity* and not how the person on the other end of your aggression feels, obviously) we need to separate the two things and then make sure we only ridicule their religion. I’m not racist, you might say, I just don’t like Islam. But you’ve acknowledged what Bangee points out about, that ‘Muslim’ is a highly racialised identity in the UK. Race is a social constuct, Muslims are extremely ethnically diverse, so it’s clearly bs, but check out the actually abuse and hostile othering that Muslims experience and you will find that it’s packed with racial stereotypes. And that cuts both ways, as I know from living with Muslims, hanging out with middle eastern friends who AREN’T Muslim etc etc and etc.

      So the whole ‘it’s not racist to ridicule Islam’ thing might sound fabulous to Grayling/Dawkins as they’re excitedly scribbling down that thought in their nice leather desk chairs or whatever, but in the media and out on the streets, I think the evidence amply demonstrates that it’s not going to fly.

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    2. If there is no such thing as Islamophobia then there is no such thing as antisemitism. Deny antisemitism first then come back and deny Islamophobia. To deny that Islam can be discriminated against by declaring it an idea does incredible disservice to the people who walk in fear in the streets because they look a certain way or wear certain clothing associated with their beliefs. People who speak like this should a) find some empathy b) get past their own prejudices and c) research past examples of systematic and propaganda led hate.

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