Last night the Muslim Council of Britain held a special closed-meeting of parliamentarians, journalists, police, public servants, community representatives, academics and, erm, me. The topic of discussion was Tackling Islamophobia: Reducing Street Violence Against British Muslims.
The event was timely. “Since 9/11 anti-Muslim hate crimes appear to have become more prevalent than racist hate crimes where black and Asian Londoners are the victims.” (PDF) Testimony from a range of academic experts and politicians substantiated the claim that street violence against Muslims is rising.
Speakers stressed that there are “tangible links between Islamophobia or anti-Muslim bigotry in both mainstream political and media discourse…extremist nationalist discourse, and anti-Muslim hate crimes”. Peter Oborne – a journalist on the Conservative right by his own admission – described how after 7/7 he became aware that journalists in mainstream newspapers got away with telling lies and distorting facts about Islam and Muslims on a regular basis. Indeed he collected his findings and took them to Channel 4, who turned them into a special episode of Dispatches. This sort of dishonesty – he said – would not be tolerated if it were directed at any other minority group. Yet the smearing of British Muslims, usually playing on fears of terrorism, is standard fare in the British media.
Oborne urged that opponents of Islamophobia should therefore mount a campaign based on patriotism; of stressing respect for diversity and difference as fundamental British values. MP Phyllis Starkey agreed with Oborne’s approach, but argued for “respect”, a stronger concept she claimed than mere toleration.
Maleiha Malik of King’s College School of Law cited the work of pathbreaking historian Quentin Skinner, who has shown that Britain has arguably never been a tranquil idyll of religious homogeneity. Divisions of faith and identity have characterised these Isles since at least the days of Henry VIII, and even before. But Britain also has a long tradition of coming to terms with religious differences, and turning them to its collective advantage.
Yet if Skinner’s work is being cited, it’s worth considering another idea associated with him: that patriotism need not necessarily be a bad thing. Through 21st Century eyes, patriotism looks inevitably wedded to racial nationalism and all the horrors that wrought. Yet it was not always so. Love of one’s self-governing free State was an essential component of the (largely lost) republican tradition Skinner has sought to revive. Before Hitler and Mussolini, or Britain’s own exploitative Empire, patriotism was frequently linked to civic activism and non-sinister motivations for aiding one’s countrymen via common endeavour to promote the collective good. The question is whether Oborne, Starkey and those who wish to fight Islamophobia by branding it un-British can harness the spirit of patriotism to this effect. Or whether ugly nationalism is the inevitable result of playing the patriot card.
Source: Liberal Conspiracy