“I was waiting at the bus stop on my way to Sixth Form and a male driver rolled down his window and shouted, ‘have you got a bomb in that rucksack?’”
What led the abuser to hurl this comment at a young woman? Was it her large bag carrying school books and lunch? Was it her innocent look of happiness and care for everyone? Was it her fluent English? Or did he make the assumption a young girl had a bomb in her bag solely because she chooses to wear a long dress and a hijab in accordance with her religion? This has name: Islamophobia. Since the rise of terrorist groups in the Middle East, claiming to be Muslim, despite the juxtaposition this has to the religion; the ‘terrorist’ stigma has been attached to young and innocent British Muslims, leading to a feeling of social disillusionment.
Whilst in Primary school, I had a young Northern Irish teacher who once explained to us that during his childhood, he was living with the constant threat of the IRA; a terrorist, to him, was someone from the Republic of Ireland. To the previous generation the bomb threat was coming from the domino effect and expansion of communism due to the USSR. Each generation and each country has its own threat of terrorism; it is part of human nature to have the good and the bad.
Since 9/11, Islamophobia has been on the rise, putting pressure and unjust prejudices towards British Muslim families, most of whom are third generation immigrants. They speak fluent English, attend local schools, have a British passport and experience many ‘Very British Problems’, such as incessantly discussing the weather or apologising profusely. The everyday British Muslim is feeling under pressure and attacked, many claiming that the sensation of being ‘isolated and less integrated’ is what drives the few into the hands of extremism.
In 2004, the charity, Liberty, published a report on the treatment of British Muslims since the Terrorism Act 2000 in which it describes how rather than terrorists being prosecuted, Government was ‘effectively criminalising them as a community’. Whilst this was over ten years ago now, the same feelings are prevalent and returning today with the rise of ISIS. It is evident that the Government, in its pledge to protect us from a foreign threat, has neglected its own citizens and home issues: The issues leading to crime and violence on our own streets due to unemployment, poverty and small gangs is another debate.
The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 was originally opposed to by the Liberal Democrats during the coalition and so was announced – after the Conservatives won the majority – in the Queen’s speech 27th May. As well as this, other left wing groups and charities, such as Liberty, Amnesty International and the UN have protested at its violation of basic human rights like freedom of speech. It is important to note, however, that freedom of speech does not allow citizens to attack the Islamic community due to fear of the unknown.
The Act aims to prevent ‘opposition to the fundamental British values including democracy…’ and asks for teachers and parents to monitor students and family members for ‘extremist’ behaviour. However, what is considered extremist behaviour? Under ‘vague government guidelines… graffiti symbols promoting extremist messages’ are classed as extremist, but Muslims feel as if they are no longer allowed to wear a hijab or celebrate Eid. Isn’t Britain a free country in which we are allowed to practice the freedom of worship? This is where anti-extremism begins to erode the human rights of all British citizens. The purpose of democracy is to allow citizens to analyse and criticise their government and this, in turn, has led to universal suffrage and marriage equality.
Similarly, it appears that the Government seem to fear what they do not understand. In the 2015 general election, only thirteen Muslim MPs were elected despite 26 constituencies having over 20% Muslim population. British Muslims are being unequally represented in the Houses of Parliament and so are unable to prevent such harmful legislation from being passed. This lack of representation and understanding of Islam is a reason for so much Islamophobia in this country. ‘We should remember how repulsive our carnivorous habits would seem to an intelligent rabbit’ teaches a UK citizen that whilst we may not understand Islam or follow its teachings, it does not give us, or our government, a right to attack those who do and treat them all as terrorists.
All this being said, there is a reason for the seemingly ‘Big Brother’ approach to tackle terrorism. Over 700 radicalised young British Muslims have left the UK to join ISIS . There was the incident in Birmingham, dubbed as the ‘Trojan Horse’ conspiracy where strict Muslims attempted to convert whole schools within the area. This attitude within the UK toward ISIS and our own citizens needs to be addressed as much as Islamophobia.
Furthermore, the new Act aims to counteract the extreme behaviour targeted at women with the problematic ‘wives of jihad’. In these few and far between extreme cases, extreme measures by our Government are needed in order to protect all our citizens of all backgrounds and faiths. In particular, the teenagers who are more susceptible to extremist views, such as the young teenage girls who have left the UK to the bewilderment of their parents.
Likewise, a report from the Government explains how the ‘gas and antiquities’ in the Middle Eastern countries within which ISIS has a stronghold, give the organisation ‘leverage and money’ and thus pose a threat to neighbouring countries; the time of the report, mainly Syria. As seen over the summer in 2015, Syrian refugees are relying on UN aid as their country is being torn apart by ISIS. The irony of this is that the few Muslims who have been conditioned to sympathise and fight for ISIS, do not see it this way and both sides need help from the slaughter and mass destruction they face. For this reason, the British Government has a necessity to assess the problem and determine the threat to our country, but does it warrant the isolation of and prejudices against our very own citizens?
Observations have been made that, not only are Muslim communities being targeted, but Muslim charities, too. These charities are responsible for running Mosques and humanitarian relief in war struck-zones such as Syria, are being accused of having links to terrorism and thus international banks have frozen some of their accounts to prevent money reaching the hands of terrorist organisations. However, this money is aimed towards the innocent Syrians who have been caught in the middle and are now seeking refuge. This is yet another part of the Qur’an few are aware of; Muslims are expected to donate 2.5% of their earnings to charity (known as Zakat, one of the five Pillars of Islam). The way in which banks are averting the aid is proving that the attack on extremism is attacking citizens of the UK and those in need.
The Conservative Government has been accused of allowing ministers to ‘silence’ individuals who have ‘extremist’ views. However, this goes back to, what is classed as extremism? Surely, under a democratic and free country, we should be able to voice opinions against the government without fear that it will lead to our arrest? Between 2013 and 2014 there was a 30% increase in arrests for terrorist behaviour and 86% were charged. It is difficult to find on what grounds many people are arrested as only brief explanations were provided. Examples like this are attacking the citizens rather than extremism. Citizens are left to feel like their Human Rights have been violated and a large community within the UK is feeling under attack. This is not just recent: Articles published in 2005 show that, since the war in Iraq and the threat of terrorism between 2001 and 2004, 701 people were arrested under the Anti-Terror Act yet only 17 were convicted. With the knowledge that this has been going on for almost fifteen years, it’s difficult not to feel that the Government’s attempts to divert terrorism is in truth attacking ordinary UK citizens.
I have also felt my freedoms restricted under the new Acts in place. I do not have any affiliation with ISIS or any terrorist organisations, nor do I wish to join any: quite frankly, I’m too lazy to be bothered; I have too many books to read and essays to write to be dealing with that shit. However, I have been warned by teachers and friends to be careful what I say. Is it really that bad that I can’t voice my opinion on foreign policy? Yes, I see how my views are extreme but we let EDL go on marches, and Britain First, and (to a lesser extent) UKIP. They are allowed the freedom of speech to march with posters boasting, ‘No more mosques’. Why can’t I say that I disagree with Blair’s motivations to go to Iraq without the risk of being arrested? This is a clear violation of my human rights and on a wider scale, every other British citizens’.
Far right political parties or pressure groups have the freedom to speech, yes: but it’s eroding away at human rights, promoting hatred and facts based on here-say. Who’s protecting the rights of the people they attack? No-one is, because they are attacking the same people as the government’s policy.
The British Government has every right to worry about the threat of ISIS and do its duty to those who elected them to protect British citizens. Despite this, whilst trying to protect British citizens, it appears that many have not been protected and have been ruthlessly attacked by the policies in place, the laws it imposes and the stigmas it has produced. With around 2.7million Muslims across England and Wales and 47% being born inside the UK, the British Government has a duty to safeguard the Muslim communities and ensure that, when attacking extremism within the community, they do not attack the innocent citizens of that community. This can be achieved by removing the policy which allows stop and search tactics to primarily attack Asians (an astonishing 41% rise from 2000 to 2002) and tries to tackle unacceptable Islamophobia instead.
 (Hamid, 2015)
 (Very British Problems, 2015)
 (Gani, 2015)
 (Said, 2004)
 (Bills and Legislation, 2015)
 (Sian, 2015)
 (UK: EXCLUSIVE: Record 13 Muslim MPs elected, 8 of them women, 2015)
 (Ali, 2011)
 (Wells, 1898)
 (Andrew Gilligan, 2015)
 (Saul, 2014)
 (Khan, 2015)
 (Mills, 2015)
 (Delmar-Morgan, 2015)
 (Easton, 2015)
 (Unknown, 2015)
 (Two people arrested after terror raids in Berkshire, 2015)
 (Hundreds arrested, few convicted, 2005)
 (Blayden-Ryall, 2015)
 (What does the Census tell us about religion in 2011?, 2013)
 (Said, 2004)
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