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

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£30,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a perso...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Payable Clerk

£21,000 - £24,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a new opportunit...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Manager

£55,000 - £65,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accountant with ...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

£45,000 - £55,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified accountant...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: opening round in the election contest of the YouTube videos

John Rentoul
Anthony Burgess, the author of 'A Clockwork Orange' and 'Earthly Powers,' died 17 years ago  

If Anthony Burgess doesn’t merit a blue plaque, then few do

John Walsh
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor