If you’re living in a Muslim country you’ll notice Ramadan in many wonderful ways – but a not so wonderful way is the one where you live next to a mosque with really bad speakers over which it broadcasts those early, longer, seemingly louder calls to prayer during the holy month. In stark contrast, it is hard to imagine Channel 4’s planned 3am broadcasts of the Ramadan prayers will be observed by anybody not already observing this special holiday. And yet this move has been cast as a deliberate provocation by the channel itself – to bust our stereotypes of Islam – and by bigoted newspapers spinning the call to prayer as a call to impose sharia law in Britain.
And yet, rather than recognise how alarming and frightening this vicious spike in anti-Muslim attacks truly is, sections of the British media have been engaged in trying to underplay it. Underpinning all this was a confident appraisal of British culture, such as that suggested by Tony Parsons in the Mirror, who noted that we are “a civilised, polite, tolerant people” – as though that could magically stop us also being capable of bigotry or hatred. Forty percent of anti-Muslim attacks recorded by Tell Mama UK last year were linked to English Defence League sympathisers. But these attacks can only take place and then be so casually diminished in a culture that sees some degree of hatred or suspicion of Muslims as acceptable and understandable.
Fortunately, though, tolerance really is a component of British life: that is what has prompted the flood of messages of support for British mosques, the solidarity across communities, and the anti-fascist protests that are organised to face down racist mobilisations by the EDL. Tolerance is something that makes people proud of Britain, but it is never a given; it always has to be defended – more than ever in the testing times we face today, and even when the attacks seem as superficially schoolyard as the one about the televised call to prayer.