The British 'are becoming Muslim-haters'

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The Independent Online
Britain is becoming a nation of Muslim-haters. Over the last 20 years, Islamophobia - a word coined to express the dread or hatred of Islam and Muslims - has become "more explicit, more extreme and more dangerous" in this country, according to a report published next week.

The Runnymede Trust, an independent think-tank on race-relations which last year set up a Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia to conduct the first investigation of its kind, has identified seven "tell-tale features" of anti-Muslim prejudice. It highlights the dangers of such attitudes, and demands action.

"Islamophobic discourse, sometimes blatant but frequently subtle and coded, is part of the fabric of everyday life in modern Britain, in much the same ways that anti-Semitic discourse was taken for granted earlier in the century," according to the consultation paper, a draft of which has been leaked to The Independent.

The national epidemic of anti-Muslim sentiment mutes moderate voices within Muslim communities, driving them into the hands of extemists. Islamophobia is feeding "Westophobic" opinion, says the report.

Members of the commission include the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres; Rabbi Julia Neuberger; Professor Akbar Ahmed, a Cambridge don and Britain's leading Muslim academic; Dr Richard Stone, chair of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality; and Ian Hargreaves, editor of New Statesman.

Islamophobia, a dual "demonisation" of Muslims at home and abroad, is largely blamed on the the promulgation of "prejudiced and antagonistic comments, mostly subtle but sometimes blatant and crude" in the media. "Where the media lead, many will follow," writes Professor Gordon Conway, vice-chancellor of the University of Sussex, who chairs the commission.

The first of the seven features of islamphobia is that Muslim cultures are seen as "monolithic" and "unchanging", "intolerant of pluralism and dispute". As a consequence of such over-simplification, criticisms in the British media of countries such as Iraq, Iran or Saudi Arabia are understood as "coded attacks" on Muslims in places such as Bradford, Birmingham or London's Tower Hamlets.

Claims that Muslim cultures are wholly different from other cultures comprise the second feature. Stereotypes cited in the report include that Muslim cultures mistreat women, whereas other religions and cultures have outgrown patriarchy, sexism and misogyny, and that they are fundamentalist in their interpretation of scriptures.

Third, Islam is often seen as implacably threatening. Islamophobic discourse mentions Islam as a successor to nazism and communism, and contains imagery of both invasion and infiltration. The report quotes an article by Charles Moore in the Spectator in which he refers to "hooded hordes".

Claims that Islam's adherents use their faith mainly for political purposes and for strategic and military advantage are the fourth "tell-tale" feature of islamophobia.The fifth is that hatred of Islam is often mixed with racist opposition to immigration. This "crude colour racism" is combined with a belief that "South Asian customs threaten to swamp and adulterate...the historic indigenous culture of the British nation."

Furthermore, although Muslims have "important perspectives and insights" to contribute to debates about Western liberalism, modernity and secularism - but they are frequently dismissed out of hand. The final feature is the acceptance of islamophobia as natural and unproblematic. "The expression of anti-Muslim ideas and sentiments is increasingly respectable," claims the report.

The consequences of islamophobia include injustice, limitations of personal freedom and sense of belonging, a lack of co-operation in major shared problems such as urban poverty and deprivation, dangers of disorder, and the lost opportunity of cultural interchange.

Many of the commission's proposals were echoed at yesterday's launch of a document, Election 1997 and British Muslims - For a Fair and Caring Society", by the UK Action Committee on Islamic Affairs (UKACIA). The umbrella body for national, regional and local institutions and mosques, called for government funding for Muslim schools and changes to the Race Relations Act which does not outlaw discrimination on the grounds of religion.

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