Leading article: Hatreds that need exposing

Share
Related Topics

The street violence outside a new mosque in Harrow last week was the worst in a recent series of running battles provoked by right-wing groups. The immediate cause of the fighting, which has flared up in several British cities in recent weeks, has been aggressive demonstrations by groups called "Stop the Islamification of Europe" and "English Defence League". They have succeeded in goading young Muslim men and far left groups into responding and sometimes into attacking the police. Plainly, ignorance about Islam is an underlying factor, but the causes of this conflict are a little more complicated than that.

The English Defence League seems to have arisen in reaction to the demonstrations by Islamicist extremists against British soldiers parading in Luton, which suggests there is a two-way process at work. In an atmosphere of fearfulness, ideologists of hatred on both sides are using provocation to recruit supporters. On the anti-Muslim side, ideologists of racism seek to present Islam itself as a threat; while on the other, ideologists of jihadism seek to exploit the hostility suffered by many Muslims as a tool of radicalisation. This is obviously a dangerous and potentially mutually reinforcing mechanism.

Of course, the roots of this disorder go further back than Luton. The reasons soldiers were parading on the town's streets, and protesters were demonstrating against them, arose out of 9/11 – eight years ago last week – and the military engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq that followed.

That is why the violence on the streets of Birmingham and Harrow last week is a reflection of almost everything else that dominates the news headlines, day in and day out. Last week alone, we had the convictions in the plane bomb plot; further evidence of weakening public support for the war in Afghanistan; a police investigation of allegations of MI6 complicity in torture; and, as we report today, new concerns about Somalia as a base for British jihadists.

Yet it is not the news itself that provokes street violence, but the uses to which news stories are put by malign ideologies. On the anti-Islam side, the ideologists of the BNP exploit ignorance of Islam and the cultures of British Muslims. Against all the evidence of the relatively peaceful coexistence of Muslims, Christians and post-Christians for centuries, they seek to present Islam as an intrinsically violent religion. They try to tie fear of terrorism to age-old hostility to immigration. In this, they are often assisted by elements of the press – last week saw reports that Mohamed is the second most popular name for newborn boys in Britain if different spellings are added together (which overlooks variations of James, Jake and so on, as well as the centrality of the Prophet's name in Muslim culture).

On the Muslim side, the ideologists of al-Qa'ida exploit the desire of some young men to fight back against racism, and the sense of solidarity that some British Muslims feel with their co-religionists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Chechnya, Somalia, Uighur or Kashmir. This newspaper disagreed strongly with US-British policy in Iraq, but it never accepted that the motive was to oppress Muslims. Nevertheless, the winding down of our presence in Iraq and – after the deeply flawed elections – in Afghanistan offers the chance to kill the "foreign policy" canard for good.

The answer, on both sides, is openness, information and clarity. This may sound like the soggy liberal belief that if only people understood each other better they will come together; but clarity can often be painful. There are many people, for example, who disagree with the BBC's decision to invite a BNP representative on to Question Time. This newspaper supports the idea, not because it will bring people together, but because it will expose those of malign intent. That means engaging with the BNP, not allowing it martyr status – but it also means engaging with jihadist extremists and not allowing woolly notions of multiculturalism to obscure the fundamental inhumanity of their beliefs.

Of course, we should put the recent clashes on our streets in perspective. A minority of young men will always need little excuse for fighting, and these disturbances are small compared with proper riots of earlier decades. Long, warm summer evenings are also a factor – a factor that the tilt of the earth's axis will soon take care of. But there is a danger that the attitudes on both sides can become self-sustaining and can be pushed towards violent extremism. They must not be allowed to do so.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Designer / Design Director

£38000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This B2B content marketing agen...

Austen Lloyd: Law Costs HOD - Southampton

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: An outstanding new...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron visiting a primary school last year  

The only choice in schools is between the one you want and the ones you don’t

Jane Merrick
Zoë Ball says having her two children was the best thing ever to happen to her  

Start a family – you’ll never have to go out again

John Mullin
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn