Islamophobia in Britain: some dirty little facts and figures


Remember my post from two days ago, in which I took on Islamophobia in its “feminist” guise (note the quotes, there for a reason)? Well, here’s the real nub of that issue. As you can see, it was never really about feminism at all:

More than a quarter of 18 to 24-year-olds in Britain do not trust Muslims, a BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat poll suggests.

Of the 1,000 young people questioned, 28% said Britain would be better off with fewer Muslims, while 44% said Muslims did not share the same values as the rest of the population.

Some 60% thought the British public had a negative image of Muslims.


Other findings in the Comres survey, conducted in June, include:

* When asked about religious groups 27% said they didn’t trust Muslims, 16% said they didn’t trust Hindus or Sikhs, 15% said they didn’t trust Jewish people, that figure was 13% for Buddhists and 12% said they didn’t trust Christians

* Young people place the blame for Islamophobia in Britain on terror groups abroad (26%), the media (23%) and UK Muslims who have committed acts of terror (21%)

* Only three in 10 (29%) think Muslims are doing enough to combat extremism in their communities. However, overall young people are more likely to agree (48%) than disagree (27%) that Islam is a peaceful religion

* Young people are divided over whether or not immigration is good for Britain overall. Two-fifths (42%) say it is a good thing but more than a third disagree (35%)

It’s no great secret that in Britain, anti-immigrant violence is on the rise yet again, along with some mighty frightening rhetoric. Ask any black Briton if they’ve experienced racism, and the answer will be a resounding yes; doubly so with immigrants from Africa or the Caribbean. This latest wave, however, is also religiously bigoted, since it fixates on Muslims, particularly veiled Muslim women. Like these:

Anisha Patel, a practising Muslim, wears a black full-face veil and was recently attacked by two men who pulled off her daughter’s veil.

“The kind of comments, the kind of looks and stares that we’re experiencing at this moment in time is very different to what it was before,” she said.

“They’ve become much more hostile, much more bitter, and much more aggressive in nature. It’s actually got to the stage where I’m beginning to feel that I want to stay in my house.”

She added: “At the end of the day this is a piece of cloth. It can neither harm anyone or do anything to anyone or do anything to anybody. If you’re going to add all the things on to it and say this is a terrorist or whatever they now think we are, it is just ignorance. Absolute ignorance.”

This is what I was talking about the other day. Muslim women themselves regard veils as just a piece of cloth. It is others who ascribe some imagined ideological significance to it, along with the idea that it does others harm. Not the wearer; the VIEWER. Those who see a Muslim woman in a headscarf, a veil or a burqa seem to take it as a direct affront to themselves, even though the garment doesn’t actually DO anything to them. And neither does the wearer.

In fact, this kind of Islamophobia is not only racist and religiously bigoted, it is also deeply misogynous. Of terrorists who commit atrocities in the name of Islam, the overwhelming majority are men. Very few Islamist terrorists are female. Most such terrorists spend at least some of their time in ordinary Western dress, speaking perfectly good English, unremarkable except for maybe their complexions in a predominantly white-bread world. And yet, it’s the veiled women who bear the brunt of what a minority of Muslims, who are almost always male, do. Why is that? Male bandits cover their faces with a cloth all the time when robbing banks, and yet they don’t seem to strike half as much terror into people’s hearts as a perfectly innocent woman in a black cloak and niqab, just walking down a street, minding her own business.

I would say I’m puzzled and confused by this, but actually, I’m not even a little bit surprised. Yoko Ono was right when she said that “woman is the nigger of the world”. It’s always easier to take aim at women and girls of another religion, race or ethnicity than it is to actually look one’s own bigotries, isn’t it? In fact, it’s always easier to take aim at women and girls than to confront one’s own unexamined prejudices, period. Particularly those of a sexist nature.

And we western women have internalized plenty of sexism ourselves, and we have yet to examine it for what it is. This is how a woman who thinks she’s a feminist can feel justified in playing clothing police…ironically, just like those macho-male “Vice and Virtue” cops in Saudi Arabia, though in this case, she’s all about ripping veils off rather than forcing them on. She may not realize it yet, but her attitude smacks of privilege and paternalism.

That’s why I get deeply skeptical whenever someone says that legally forcing women to take off their veils will somehow “liberate” them. No. No, it won’t. The only thing that will do, as far as law goes, is to prosecute all attacks on women — veiled or not — as hate crimes, to the fullest extent of the law.

And if such a law doesn’t exist yet, it damn well should.

PS: Required reading, courtesy of Maisonneuve. Enjoy.

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